NATIONAL HARBOR, MD, March 15, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) began Thursday at the Gaylord National Harbor resort just outside Washington, D.C.. LifeSiteNews was on site to listen to and interview the speakers, most of whom are considered possible contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Thursday’s all-star Republican line-up on the main stage began with Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, a rising star in the party who is known for being a bona fide social conservative. Cuccinelli has made national headlines as Virginia’s current Attorney General by suing to block enforcement of ObamaCare in the state. He is running against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, former DNC chairman and Clinton fundraiser.
Cuccinelli has long been a stalwart defender of life, voting as a state senator to overturn then-Democratic Governor Mark Warner's veto of the partial birth abortion ban, drafting Virginia’s parental consent law, leading efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, and demanding the state’s abortion facilities meet the same health standards as other surgical centers.
The right-to-life issue has often been a centerpiece of his speeches, but at CPAC, he delivered a gubernatorial stump speech focused on economic opportunity, and American exceptionalism with flair.
Later in the morning, former Congressman Allen West took the podium. He echoed Cuccinelli’s theme of American exceptionalism, but he delivered it in the fiery manner that made him a Tea Party favorite in 2010.
Allen talked about 2012’s massive Republican losses, which he himself fell victim to, albeit mostly because of redistricting that made his district more heavily Democratic. In the past, he has also raised suspicions of voter fraud and “irregularities.” At CPAC Allen said Republicans “took one on the jaw” in November. But, he said, “We’re not defined by the punches we take, but how fast we get up off the mat.”
West also avoided social issues in his speech, instead criticizing the Obama administration on economics, ideology, and foreign policy.
“The Constitution was meant to regulate government, not the people,” Allen said. “I’m sick of hearing that we must serve the state.” He joked about Washington’s disconnect from the people it was meant to serve, saying, “D.C. is 60 miles surrounded by reality.”
Unsurprisingly, the retired Army colonel struck a hawkish tone on foreign policy, quipping that “Peace depends on the Marine Corps, not the Peace Corps.”
Just after his speech, West told LifeSiteNews.com that he did not believe taking conservative positions on social issues caused Republican defeats in 2012. But added, “I think we have to recognize that the other side is very good at taking certain issues and creating division amongst us.”
He said that those issues distract from “what the real issues are,” namely the scope and role of the federal government.
Thursday afternoon brought the two speakers attendees seemed to most want to see to the stage for back-to-back speeches. The 5,500 capacity Potomac Ballroom was filled to overflowing with conservatives young and old who wanted to see Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
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Rubio gave the only speech of the day that focused appreciably on social issues. The 41-year-old senator spoke assertively on behalf of the pro-life cause, stating that human life is “worthy of protection at every stage of its development” and that “science has proven that life begins at conception.”
He also spoke in support of traditional marriage, saying, “Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in the traditional way does not make me a bigot.” His positions on these social issues were received warmly by the crowd, who applauded and cheered each time he raised them.
Rubio was followed immediately by Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite and defender of the Constitution who last week captured the nation’s attention with a 13-hour filibuster questioning the Obama administration about its controversial drone program and whether Obama feels he has the right to kill American citizens.
Paul’s speech was also well-received by the crowd, though his delivery was more reserved. He spoke directly to President Obama, looking into the camera and saying, “Good intentions are not enough.” He argued that no matter how much safer Obama thinks it might make America, the president must never abandon the Bill of Rights. Otherwise, he asked, “What are we fighting for?”
While Paul’s speech did not focus on social issues, the senator introduced the “Life at Conception Act” on Thursday, which would implement equal protection under the 14th Amendment for unborn babies.