Christie, Rubio fire up CPAC
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Florida Senator Marco Rubio fired up attendees with their speeches at the CPAC conference in Washington yesterday, making their cases for being considered for the 2016 presidential sweepstakes.
Christie, who was snubbed last year because of his cozying up to Obama just weeks before the election, gave attendees plenty of red meat to chew on as he skewered the president's policies and leadership, as well as urging conservatives to project a more positive vision.
“We gotta start talking about what we’re for and not what we’re against,” Christie told the crowd at the National Harbor convention center, which swelled just before he took the stage. “Our ideas are better than their ideas and that’s what we have to stand up for.”
Christie was at CPAC after not being invited last year, a snub that resulted partly from his praise of Obama during Hurricane Sandy, which many Republicans believe helped boost the Democrat back into the White House. Christie’s speech this year contained plenty of anti-Obama comments to satisfy the audience.
He described himself as unique — a pro-life governor in a blue state — but argued that the GOP needs to focus on preserving life from birth to death.
That means being “pro-life when they leave the womb as well, for every step of their lives,” Christie said.
But he insisted that America doesn’t have a problem with income inequality, an issue Obama has increasingly focused on. Instead, “we have an opportunity inequality problem,” Christie said.
During his 15-minute address, Christie ticked off a number of his fellow governors by name, notably omitting Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who also is considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
He returned to the roots of his early governorship, slamming public employee unions and billing himself as someone who’d tamed an out-of-control labor system.
“Governors are about getting things done,” Christie said.
He also criticized Obama over how he handled budget negotiations, noting the president hadn’t met with the supercommittee handling the issue in Congress.
“Man, that’s leadership, isn’t it?” Christie said.
The New Jersey governor also took repeated jabs at the media, a partisan play for a man who has been under the national microscope since the revelations in January that his aides and appointees had been involved in engineering traffic jams as part of an alleged political vendetta. The scandal has been dubbed Bridgegate.
“We have to stop letting the media define who we are and what we stand for,” he said.
Marco Rubio gave a rousing speech that electrified the crowd.
"We are right on the verge, if we make a few right decisions, of a new American century,” Rubio began. He took a populist approach to arguing against “big government” by saying that large corporations are able to “deal with big government,” while other smaller firms are not able to compete. He added that Democratic politicians are creating “disunity” in the country by focusing on addressing “inequality” rather than expanding access to opportunity.
“This notion that we’re going to pit Americans against each other on issue after issue is something that we should never accept as a people, because it’s never been who we are and it isn’t who we are right now,” Rubio said.
He pivoted to foreign policy, defining the threats faced by the United States. He said that China is threatening to take parts of the South China Sea which would limit trade and threaten America’s allies, a nuclear North Korea is testing missiles, Venezuela is slaughtering protesters, and Cuba remains an oppressive dictatorship. He added that Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons and regional hegemony and Russia is attempting to “reconstitute” the former Soviet Union.
“And by the way, what do all these countries have in common?” he asked. “These are totalitarian governments.”
“There is only one nation on earth capable of rallying and bringing together the free people on this planet to stand up to the spread of totalitarianism,” Rubio said. “The United Nations cannot do this. In fact, they cannot do anything.”
“We cannot ignore that the flawed foreign policy of the last few years has brought us to this stage, because we have a president who believed but by the sheer force of his personality he would be able to shape global events,” Rubio asserted. “We do not have the luxury of seeing the world the way we hope it would be. We have to see the world the way it is. And we have to address these issues before they grow unmanageable, and they threaten, not just our freedoms, but our economy.”
“[Ronald] Reagan dealt with the Soviet Union because they had nuclear weapons and he wanted peace, but he never accepted the Soviet Union,” he declared. He said went on to outline how the behavior of the Iranian government should be unacceptable to the American public and regarded as illegitimate.
Both men are trying to rehab their image with conservatives. Rubio may succeed in undoing some of his self-inflicted damage created when he took up the cause of immigration reform. His recent speeches about the Ukraine crisis and other foreign policy issues has set him apart and reminded people why they liked him in the first place.
Christie has a far larger challenge - dispel the notion that he's just another northeastern moderate. Actually, it's the same challenge most Republican governors will have, since most GOP state executives must operate in an environment where compromise and comity with Democrats is necessary. But Christie's problems with the bridge scandal, along with some of his recent statements on gun control and other hot button issues, make him a target for most conservatives.
Both Christie and Rubio received standing ovations from CPAC attendees, so at least some conservatives may be taking a second look at them as far as both being presidential material.