CPAC applause lines: Red meat for the faithful

At the Conservative Political Action Conference, 2016 presidential hopefuls Rand Paul and others, plus tea party superstars like Sarah Palin, are cheer-leading movement activists.

Mike Theiler/REUTERS
Former Senator and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday. Conservative activists, Republicans, and tea partyers hear politicians, presidential hopefuls, and business leaders advocate a conservative agenda.

You don’t get any more red than the CPAC conference, the annual gathering of conservatives that’s also a beauty contest for Republican presidential hopefuls. The conference, which closes Saturday evening with guest speaker Sarah Palin, has not disappointed for applause lines. Here are six examples of huzzah-rating remarks at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference:

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky: “I believe what you do on your cell phone is none of their damn business," he said to a crowd that roared approval. "A great president would have protected us from the prying eyes of the NSA," adding later, “I took a stand – I sued the president” – another crowd pleaser. Senator Paul urged Republicans to embrace the libertarian movement, where he and his father, former presidential candidate and Congressman Ron Paul, are giants.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry: “It’s time for a little rebellion on the battlefield of ideas,” said the 2012 presidential candidate – who rocked the room at 9:00 a.m. on Friday with a speech about small government. “Get out of the health care business, get out of the education business,” said the energetic governor. The crowd loved him, leaping to their feet and applauding loudly at his rhetorical climax. The governor’s term is expiring and he may try again for the Oval Office.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas: “We need to repeal every single word of Obamacare,” said the tea-party darling who helped shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act last fall. CPACers loved that line by this possible presidential candidate. His speech urged Republicans to stand up for their principles, rather than embrace mealy moderates. “We all remember President Dole, President McCain and President Romney,” Cruz said. That, however, drew sharp criticism from Sen. John McCain and former Sen. Robert Dole.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida: “There is only one nation on earth capable of rallying and bringing together the free peoples to stand up to the spread of totalitarianism…. That is ours. The United Nations cannot do this. In fact they can’t do anything.” That was good for hearty applause in a serious speech sharply critical of President Obama’s foreign policy and calling for more American leadership in a dangerous world. Senator Rubio was burned by conservatives for his support of immigration reform and is trying to win his way back for a possible 2016 presidential bid.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey: The crowd liked: “We’ve got to start talking about what we're for, not what we're against” – one of the governor’s consistent messages. Conservatives have been wary about this executive of a blue state. And the “Bridgegate” scandal involving blocked lanes on the George Washington Bridge has snarled his chances for a presidential bid in 2016. But Mr. Christie was his old tell-it-as-it-is self and he was warmly received.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky: It was less what he said and more what he did. The leader of Republicans in the Senate, in the fight of his life for a sixth term, walked on stage with a muzzle-loading rifle and hoisted it above his head. It was a gift from the NRA that he presented to his retiring GOP colleague Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. "If I'm given an opportunity to lead the US Senate next year, I will not let you down," said Senator McConnell. That’s a big if. He’s in a statistical tie with Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

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