Conservative Conference A Parade Of Potential Candidates For 2016

Mar 14, 2013
Originally published on March 14, 2013 6:49 pm
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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. Here in the nation's capitol, today is a day to talk about future agendas. For Democrats, it's about the second Obama term; for conservatives, it's the future of the Republican Party. We'll hear about both in the next few minutes, beginning with CPAC - that's the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that opened today.

There are panels on immigration and reaching out to young people and what to do about what conservatives see as the tyranny of the United Nations. There's also a parade of potential candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. NPR's Mara Liasson is spending the day in the CPAC convention hall and she joins us now. Hey, Mara.


BLOCK: Now, just one year ago, conservatives were riding high. They were confident they could defeat President Obama, but now Republicans have lost the popular vote in the last five of six presidential elections. So is there some soul-searching going on at that convention?

LIASSON: Very little. There is an acknowledgement they need a better message and maybe better messengers, but most people I talked to here think the answer to the Republican Party's problems is to get back to basic conservative principles. They're not deluded. One speaker told them that we are losing the battle against secular socialism at this moment. But there's a sense they are just one candidate and one election away from resurrection.

And there also is a sense that they're very happy with the field as it's shaping up for 2016. Conservatives do not think that they're going to have to settle again.

BLOCK: Well, Mara, today you heard from one of those candidates that they may be banking on, the Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. He's been called the Republican Party's savior, the RG3 of the GOP.

LIASSON: Yes, the RG3 of American politics, even. Rubio gave a very well-delivered, well-received speech. He said the Republican Party shouldn't be just fighting for those who've made it against the other side who fights for government programs. But he said they should be fighting for the hard-working middle class. And the way he said they should do that is with pretty traditional Republican proposals.

He talked about free trade and school choice and pro-growth tax policies and he seemed to acknowledge that these were not necessarily new ideas.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Now, as soon as I'm done speaking, I'll tell you what the criticism on the left is going to be. Number one, he drank too much water. Number two, that he didn't offer any new ideas. And there's the fallacy of it. We don't need a new idea. There is an idea. The idea is called America and it still works.

LIASSON: Yes, that's a real Reagan-esque flourish. And he also painted a picture of why the stakes are so high - because we are competing with China to see who will be the preeminent, the dominant economic and military power in the world. The other thing that struck me about Rubio's speech is he made the entire speech without mentioning immigration once.

BLOCK: And that's something that he's become known for, for being one of the voices that may chart the Republican Party in a new direction on that.

LIASSON: That's right.

BLOCK: Another popular speaker today, Mara, at the Conservative Political Action Conference was Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Let's listen to a bit of what he had to say.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered. I don't think we need to name any names, do we?

BLOCK: Stale and moss-covered, Mara. What did Rand Paul give as an answer to that problem?

LIASSON: His answer is a classic libertarian agenda - legalize some drug use, cut foreign aid, eliminate the Education Department. And as one of his supporters enthusiastically shouted out in the audience when he said he had a message to the president, the guy said - don't drone me, bro - referring to Paul's 13-hour filibuster against the drone program.

There's no doubt that right now Rand Paul is the leader of the Tea Party libertarian wing of the Republican Party, and he and Marco Rubio are two new generation leaders in the party and they represent two poles, two wings of the Republican conservative movement.

BLOCK: Okay, Mara. Thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Mara Liasson in Oxen Hill, Maryland, at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.