NATIONAL HARBOR,Md. – Sen. Ted Cruz preached the conservative agenda,Sen. Mitch McConnell brought a gun to the stage,and the conservative crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference was electric.
The Texas Republican was the first high-profile speaker at CPAC,an annual hub of conservative politicians and activists,many of them aspiring politicians seeking a national audience.
Cruz,who has gained a reputation for being staunch – or stubborn – said Friday other conservatives should follow suit.
“There are a lot of DC consultants who say there’s a choice for Republicans to make,” he said. “We can either choose to keep our head down,to not rock the boat,to not stand for anything,or we can stand for principle. They say if you stand for principle you lose elections. I want to tell you something — that is a false dichotomy.”
His message taps into one of the major challenges facing the GOP this midterm election year –forging ahead with conservative policies while fighting a Democratic Senate and administration,without being blamed for the resulting gridlock.
Cruz blamed the GOP’s presidential election losses of 2008 and 2012 on candidates failing to contrast their conservative views with liberal ones.
“When we don’t stand and draw a clear distinction,democrats celebrate,” he said.
Rep. Paul Ryan,R-Wis. echoed Cruz,saying the fights may be “messy” and “a bit uncomfortable.”
In his speech,Ryan bashed on Democrats saying,the heavy push to solve income inequality is a sign the party is running dry on ideas.
“All they talk about is income inequality,” Ryan said. “They say it shows party unity,but what it really shows is they are out of ideas. They have spent five years in power,and all they have to show for it is one lousy website. Now that the president is implementing his agenda,it’s a total fiasco.”
Cruz and Ryan were joined at CPAC by three other top conservative picks for the presidential race of 2016.
Gov. Bobby Jindal,R-La.,took on education and religious freedom.
Jindal,who said Obama was the “worst president” during his lifetime,said he would keep fighting the administration as he tries to push for school choice in his state.
The Louisiana governor also defended his support for the stars of the reality show “Duck Dynasty.” Jindal released a letter in support of the Robertson family when one of its members made controversial remarks about homosexuals in a magazine interview.
Jindal said religious freedom in America was being assaulted by the administration.
“We’ve got a government so big that it’s abrading on our religious liberty. This president seems to think that our first amendment rights start and end on Sunday.”
Sen. Marco Rubio,R-Fla.,strayed from domestic affairs and delivered a speech centered on foreign policy as turmoil unfolds in the Ukraine and Venezuela and tensions rise between the U.S. and Russia.
“We cannot ignore that the flawed foreign policy of the last year has brought us to this stage,” Rubio said.
Rubio,who is of Cuban descent,said the U.S. has an important role in fighting communist and totalitarian governments.
“There is nothing moral or acceptable about a government that doesn’t let you worship as you please. There is nothing moral or acceptable about a government that jails political activists. These are not acceptable forms of government,” Rubio said.
Rubio said those governments threaten America’s freedom and economy.
“If you think that Obamacare is hurting our economy,yes,but so is China controlling the South China Sea,” Rubio said.
Gov. Chris Christie,R-N.J.,stepped away from foreign policy,and used his speech to tout on the success of conservative governors before a gridlocked Washington.
“Governors are about getting things done,” Christie said.
Christie,who rallied several cheers during his speech,took jabs at Obama and the media.
“We gotta start talking about what we’re for and not what we’re against,” Christie said. “We have to stop letting the media define who we are and what we stand for.”
The three-day conference continues tomorrow,with Gov. Rick Perry,R-Texas and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee expected to deliver speeches.
Reach reporter Melhor Leonor at [email protected] or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.