Two Republicans who may compete against each other in the 2016 presidential race are offering different takes on the pitch their party needs to make to voters.
In speeches yesterday to the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said traditional Americanism is the answer, while Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky called for a revised message.
“We need a Republican Party that shows up on the south side of Chicago and shouts at the top of our lungs, we are the party of jobs and opportunity” and the “ticket to the middle class,” Paul said, referring to a section of President Barack Obama’s adopted hometown that has some of the city’s lowest-income residents.
Rubio and Paul were the first of more than a half-dozen prospective presidential candidates appearing at the three-day CPAC gathering, sponsored by a Washington-based group that promotes smaller government. Others speaking today and tomorrow include Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee.
“We don’t need a new idea,” Rubio said in his speech. “There is an idea. The idea is called America and it still works.”
Paul countered in remarks immediately following his Senate colleague. Their party “has grown stale and moss-covered,” he said, adding, “I don’t think we need to name any names.”
Along with serving as a potential preview of 2016 Republican presidential contest, the gathering in Oxon Hill, Maryland, provided a forum for one of the party’s failed 2012 White House aspirants to settle some scores.
Texas Governor Rick Perry slammed Obama’s leadership and implicitly criticized some of his party’s most prominent members. Perry argued that Republicans hadn’t fielded “conservative” candidates either in 2012, when former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney bested him for the nomination, or 2008, when the standard bearer was Arizona Senator John McCain.
“The popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideals, as evidenced by the last two presidential elections,” Perry said. “That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012.”
CPAC attendees applauded.
Peter Boddie, a water consultant attending the conference from Colorado, said he likes both Rubio and Paul and wants both of them to run.
“Rubio is a much more polished speaker,” he said. “Rand Paul is the real deal in a different way.”
Katrina Lautenschlager, a college student attending from Washington state, said she would like the two men to run together on the presidential ticket.
“Rubio was more passionate, so that drew me in,” she said. “Rand had more big points.”
Paul, 50, arrived at the convention with momentum from a 13-hour filibuster last week on the Senate floor against John Brennan, Obama’s nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director, and the administration’s secret drone program.
As he took the stage, Paul dropped two spiral notebooks stuffed with papers onto a side table and joked that he’d only been given 10 “measly” minutes to speak -- yet had brought 13 hours worth of speaking material.
“For liberty to expand, government must shrink,” Paul said. “For the economy to grow, government must get out of the way.”
Rubio, who like Paul is a favorite of the anti-tax Tea Party movement, told the audience that mutual respect is required in U.S. politics, if there is to be compromise.
“Just because I believe that states have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot,” he said. “The people who are actually closed-minded in American politics are the people who love to preach about the certainty of science with regards to our climate, but ignore the absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception.”
Rubio also stressed his opposition to additional federal taxes as part of the debate on reducing federal deficits. “There is no tax increase in the world that will solve our long-term debt problem,” he said.
Although he’s viewed as a Republican leader in the push to revise immigration policy, Rubio, 41, made no significant mention of the issue.
Republican pollster Whit Ayres told his CPAC listeners that they need to do more to reach out to Hispanic voters, who exit polls showed gave 71 percent of their votes to Obama in November’s election.
“In order to be resurrected, we’ve got to have a different message, particularly on this issue,” he said.
“We are in many ways in the same position the Democrats were in 1988” after they had lost three consecutive presidential races. Pointing to the emergence of Bill Clinton and his 1992 presidential win, Ayres said, “We are only one candidate and one election away from resurrection.”
In addition to the speakers, the annual CPAC gathering has drawn notice for who isn’t there: all of the governors who have said they will seek federal funds provided by Obama’s health-care law for expansion of Medicaid, which serves the poor. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives still assert that the health-care law should be repealed, as do many Tea Party activists.
Among those excluded are two governors considered potential presidential contenders -- Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bob McDonnell of Virginia.
Without naming Christie, Perry referenced him and the others seeking the Medicaid expansion, saying, “Unfortunately, some of our friends and allies in the conservative movement have folded in the face of federal bribery and mounting pressure from special interest groups.”
Perry, 63, also said Obama is “dangerously releasing criminals onto our streets to make a political point” in a “federally sponsored jailbreak” designed to sow “hysteria” about the impact of across-the-board government spending cuts that are taking effect.
A U.S. immigration official said yesterday that the administration released more than 2,000 illegal immigrants last month because of budget concerns.