Friday’s session of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was crucial for Republican presidential candidates, but it started with an audition for Vice President.
Our own Gov. Bob McDonnell proved once again if you want a VP candidate who is not teleprompter dependent and has not expressed strong feelings regarding the very poor, McDonnell is just your man.
Much of McDonnell’s speech obliquely stressed his Vice Presidential qualifications by running through his resume and focusing on his administration’s record.
McDonnell characterized the election as choice between Constitutionally limited government and a constantly expanding federal government. McDonnell concluded by saying his family came to the US from Ireland, and 100 years later he sits in the governor’s office holding the same position held by Thomas Jefferson.
Which, come to think of it, also applies to the office of Vice President.
Four years ago Mitt Romney withdrew from the race during his speech at the conference, this year he wanted to use a CPAC speech to revive it. After suffering three consecutive primary losses to Rick Santorum, Romney needed a strong rebound and straw poll victory before an audience filled with many people skeptical of his conservatism and commitment to the cause.
Romney described the Obama administration as the “last gasp of liberalism’s great failure.” And he urged the participants to “reaffirm what it means to be conservative.”
This involves a reverence for the founding document, “Conservatives aren’t just proud to cling to our guns and religion, we are also proud to cling to our Constitution,” Romney declared to enthusiastic applause.
One of the biggest applause lines of the afternoon came when he declared he’s been successful in business and he’s not ashamed to say so. Romney assured the audience, “I’ve served in government, but I didn’t inhale. I’m still a business guy.”
Santorum’s goal was to establish himself as the only viable alternative to Romney and consolidate the ABM (anyone but Mitt) vote. Santorum explained, “Conservatism did not fail our country. Conservatives failed conservatism.” Specifically by adopting the philosophy that winning is more important than staying true to your principles, a veiled reference to John McCain. “We’ve learned our lesson,” Santorum said. “We will no longer abandon and apologize for the principles that made this country great.”
Santorum addressed his chances by downplaying the influence of money, of which he has little, and stressing the power of contrasts. “We aren’t going to win with money. We’re going to win with contrasts, by making Barack Obama and his failed policies the issue in this race.”
For Newt Gingrich the presidential campaign is a four–letter word and that word is BOLD. Bold ideas. Bold plans. Bold solutions. Bold politics.
“When the conservative movement offers bold solutions, it wins decisively. I want to talk about bold solutions to get America working again,” Newt boldly announced.
Gingrich intends for the entire GOP congressional establishment to campaign with him this fall, which will require a large fleet of buses and a huge block of rooms on the cruise ship. And in the few days between the swearing in of the new Congress and Newt’s Bold presidential oath of office, he has a to–do list for Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader (he hopes) Mitch McConnell. Newt expects both houses to pass bills repealing Obamacare, Sarbanes–Oxley and Dodd–Frank.
So by signing these bills in the first 20 minutes of his new administration Newt can expunge 40 percent of the late Obama administration. Then Gingrich can really get to work with Bold executive orders: approve the Keystone pipeline, move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, reinstate the Mexico City policy banning the expenditure of tax dollars for abortions in other countries and break ground on the moon colony.
Then he plans to pause for lunch.
Gingrich’s speech also included a larger role for Callista, the new wife, who introduced him to a tepid audience response. This probably marks the first time in campaign history The Other Woman 2.0 has been brought out of hiding and used in a prominent role, which really does qualify as Bold.
The result of Saturday’s straw poll was good for two of the three candidates. Romney won with 38 percent of the vote, followed by Santorum at 31 percent. Gingrich was a very poor third, barely beating Ron Paul — who did not attend the conference — 15 percent to 12 percent.
The conclusion is Romney can speak “conservative;” and head–to–head in a setting where ad spending and organization does not matter; Santorum is a viable ABM alternative.
Unfortunately for Santorum those conditions don’t apply in the vast majority of remaining primaries.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at