CPAC’s afternoon session featured a few more people, with big draws like Chris Christie and Ted Cruz filling the ballroom with countless college Republicans (only one pair around me seemed to make a love connection). They might have had to wake up a ballroom full of sleepy conference attendees this morning, but this afternoon’s speakers were playing to a house ready to jump out of their seats and applaud, and that’s pretty much what they did.
First up was Chris Christie, who chose to do a “talk show” format interview with radio host Laura Ingraham instead of speaking from the podium, and he certainly surprised the audience with his, well, maybe the best term for it is swagger. Chris Christie’s speeches aren’t always made to a national media, even though he acknowledged that what he does on a state level has national implications and makes for great fodder for national stories, if ony because the New York Times is right in his backyard.
To begin, Christie addressed concerns that he was far from the front runner, posting only 5% in the most recent Presidential poll. He maintained that it was far too early to count him out yet, as he’d been counted out on numerous occasions only to pull through: “Here I am,” he said. “I’m still standing.” Ingraham followed up with some contentious issues, questioning Christie’s commitment to the pro-life cause and on his ratification of Common Core standards in New Jersey. Christie responded by noting that, while he did approve Common Core when the state was in dire economic straits, he since regrets the decision, as it has taken control of the school curriculum out of the hands of teachers and parents. He believes that education needs to be handled on a local level, where experience with the local system can guide implementation of standards. As for his social conservative credentials, Christie maintains that he’s commmitted to the pro-life cause, even in a state like New Jersey, and has shown his mettle, being the first New Jersey governor to speak at a pro-life rally from the state capitol steps and vetoing Planned Parenthood funding five times.
As for his temper, well, he believes his tendency to speak his mind has a slightly different aim:
No, the word they miss is “passionate.” What my parents taught me is that if you really care about something, you have to go all in. There are no half-measures. I’m going to be passionate. I’m going to speak my mind. I’m going to be direct. If I didn’t care, there’s no reason to do this. Sometimes, people need to be told to sit down and shut up.
He followed up with soft answers on immigration (America is the greatest country in the world), and championed his middle class credentials. He defended his confrontations with New Jersey teachers’ unions by explaining that his position of strength has allowed him to negotiate a roadmap to save his state’s teacher pension system. He focused his domestic policy answers squarely on his definition of “American exceptionalism” and spoke fondly of his Blue Collar background, something nearly every candidate speaking today has demonstrated and highlighted in his speech. The Republican field, it seems, is full of people who remember the good old days of Spaghetti-Os and night school. It’s a play for Reagan Democrats or a reaction against the prestigious Bush legacy, but either way, it’s bizarrely endearing. I wanted to hate Christie. I didn’t. I wanted to go out for a beer with him and have him fight something. Maybe on a bet. Maybe at the Jersey Shore. Maybe to win back that bear he gave to Barack Obama.
Like Christie, Carly Fiorina, who spoke next, focused heavily on her upbringing and real world experience (something Ted Cruz, who spoke last, encouraged the audience to request from their potential Presidential candidates). Fiorina has a degree in Medieval history. She droppd out of law school. She typed, filed, and answered phones for a real estate company. She became a CEO. And according to Fiorina, she is living proof that the American dream can work out. Because, as she says, “It is only in this country where a girl can go from a secretary to a CEO.”
Like Dr. Carson earlier this morning, Fiorina talked about the tyranny of progressive compassion, telling the crowd that what passes for compassion from Democrats is really just the pompous idea that people who are educated and moneyed know better how to direct the lives of the poor. Republicans, she contended, know better:
We know that no one of us is better than another of us. Each one of us can live a life of dignity, purpose, and meaning.
She followed up by demonstrating her commitment to what she called, “Main Street,” acknowledging that Crony Capitalism is problematic, but that greater governmental control, whether it is Dodd-Frank or Net Neutrality, is hardly the solution: “all this government complexity means that the big get bigger, the small disappear, and the powerless are trapped.”
Where Fiorina really surprised was in her talk about foreign policy. Since she’s not in elected leadership, it’s an area where she’ll have to prove herself to be considered truly in contention for the Presidency. She can, at least, talk a good game. She talked about her world travels, she threw hawkish red meat to the masses. She earned herself a standing ovation by taking on HIllary Clinton and hashtag diplomacy. She hit all of the crowd’s sweet spots: ISIS, Iran, Israel, and, last but not least, Benghazi. And nothing will get CPAC out of their seats like Benghazi.
One interesting aspect of Fiorina’s speech: she closed by leaning heavily on women’s rights. Not the #waronwomen, per se, but maybe a pre-emptive attack on Hillary Clinton’s “I am woman, hear me roar” identity politics. After hitting Clinton on her response to the Benghazi affair, she took on Hillary’s skin-deep commitment to women’s rights, excoriating Clinton for proclaiming her commitment to equality while taking huge donations for her foundation from governments that can’t even bring themselves to allow women the right to drive. According to Fiorina, women are more than just a token demographic. At 53% of the population, they’re a formidable political force, and, it seems, Fiorina wants to treat them as her ace in the hole.
Last but of course not least is Ted Cruz, who barely had to do more than step onto the stage to earn himself a standing ovation. As is his wont, Cruz chose to pace the floor for his speech, making his presence at once friendlier than his opponents’ and more imposing. I hate to say he reminded me of James Spader giving a trademark Boston Legal closing argument: impassioned, maybe angry at times, but not entirely substantial. Unlike Christie and Fiorina, who clearly came to give the crowd a foundation for eventually supporting their Presidential campaigns, Cruz came to deliver a speech to an audience that was ready to hear him — and already partial to his message.
In totally political terms, Ted Cruz is one hell of a panty-dropper. He quoted Ronald Reagan, pledging to rebuild the fabled three-legged stool, giving fiscal, social, and security conservatives an equal measure of his respect. His plan is, of course, ambitious. His vision? Very Ted Cruz. There’s just no other way to describe him.
Reassemble the Reagan coalition, we bring together fiscal conservatives and social conservatives and national security conservatives. We stand strong for economic growth, but we also stand for life and marriage. We defend Constitutional rights, but we stand and lead the fight against ISIS and a nuclear Iran. We need all three legs of the proverbial Republican stool.
Like his predecessors on stage, Cruz hammered at the value of the middle class and made a play for working-class Americans, specifically, as he said, Reagan Democrats looking to build opportunities for their families in the heartland. In between jokes, which drew tepid response from the audience (after all, he uses the same jokes all the time), he laid into Hillary Clinton and Establishment Republicans, and reminded the audience that, no matter what’s said on the stage this weekend, it’s whether the candidates have bloodied themselves on the battlefield of life that matters. I think I might have even caught a snide little underhanded swipe at Sarah Palin, as Cruz railed against the people delivering speeches and “you betchas” from the CPAC podium.
You shall know them by their fruits. Demand action, not talk.… When have you stood up and fought against it? When have you stood up and fought for it?…
If you have a candidate who stood up against Democrats, that’s great. When you have been willing to stand against Republicans?
I’m not sure if the crowd felt it (all joking aside, the crowd’s response to Cruz was more tepid than I expected), but the guy sitting behind me in full Revolutionary War regalia was all over it.
Once he finished setting himself apart from the field, Ted Cruz asked the audience to text the word “Constitution” to a number in order to, I presume, save America. He then, with the help of Fox News’s Sean Hannity, laid out a five-point plan for his first day as President Ted Cruz that should probably be printed on those posters that have him all tatted up, as background. According to Cruz, he’s going to (1) Repeal every blasted word of Obamacare, (2) Abolish the IRS and relocate all 125,000 IRS agents to the southern border (which may or may not work depending on whether drug mules also need their finances audited), (3) Stop the out of control regulators at the EPA and the alphabet soup of Washington, (4) defend our Constitutional rights — all of them and — as if that were not enough, (5) Restore America’s leadership in the world as “a shining city on a hill.” And then, having achieved rock star status, called Barack Obama a “lawless imperator,” noted that he, Ted Cruz, loves America, and left the stage through a hail of flowers.
No, I’m kidding, but he’s sort of like that. He’s just so very Ted Cruz.
Coming up at 5 EST it seems we have Scott Walker follwed by Bobby Jindal, and then we close the books on Thursday with Sarah Palin. I’m still waiting for that gin, people.
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