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CPAC provides window into GOP’s future

BY Terence Burlij  March 7, 2014 at 9:18 AM EDT
Republican campaign buttons are seen during the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Republican campaign buttons are seen during the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The Morning Line

By the time Saturday rolls around the thousands of conservative activists gathered outside the nation’s capital for the latest installment of the Conservative Political Action Conference will have gotten to kick the tires on many of the leading Republican contenders for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination.

The subject of most intrigue on the first day of the event was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who did not receive an invite last year after he praised President Barack Obama in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, much to the dismay of some conservatives. Looking to rebuild his national profile in the wake of the George Washington Bridge scandal and bolster his support among conservatives wary of his blue-state pedigree, Christie used his speech Thursday to forcefully rebuke the president’s leadership, deride Washington dysfunction and blast the media for misrepresenting the GOP.

But the Garden State governor also offered a small dose of his usual brand of straight-talk, telling the crowd that Republicans need to “start talking about what we’re for and not what we’re against.”

“I’ll remind you of just one simple truth in this democracy: we don’t get to govern if we don’t win,” Christie added. “Let’s come out of here not only resolved to stand for our principles, but let’s come out of this conference resolved to win elections again.”

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes how Christie looked to “roll back the clock” with his remarks Thursday.

Last year’s CPAC came with the president’s re-election victory still fresh in the minds of conservatives and resulted in a good deal of debate about the future direction of the Republican Party. Given the differences between the speakers Thursday, it’s clear that the party is still in the process of determining the road back to electoral success at the national level.

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, said the way forward involved finding solutions to the country’s problems.

“We have to offer a vision. We have to explain where we want to take the country and how we want to get there,” the House Budget Committee chairman said. “Now, there’s a fine line between being pragmatic and being unprincipled. And sometimes, sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s here to start a career and who’s here to serve a cause.”

Ryan added that he believed the talk of “a great divide” in the GOP was overblown.

“This is how it always is. You fight it out. You figure out what works. You come together. Then, you win. It’s messy. It’s noisy. And it’s a little bit uncomfortable. But the center of gravity is shifting,” he said.

There appeared to be little disagreement among the speakers about the need to draw a clear contrast with Democrats. What remains unsettled is the strategy for accomplishing that goal.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz argued Republicans need to be more aggressive in highlighting their differences and questioned those in the party who advocate for a more conciliatory approach.

“They say if you stand for principle you lose elections: the way to do it — the smart way, the Washington way — is don’t stand against ‘Obamacare,’ don’t stand against the debt ceiling, don’t stand against nothing,” he said.

“I want to tell you something: That is a false dichotomy. You want to lose elections? Stand for nothing.”

For his part Florida Sen. Marco Rubio largely stayed clear of the intra-party debate and focused instead on foreign policy, taking aim at the president’s leadership.

“We cannot ignore the global importance of this nation. And we cannot ignore the implications to our future if we fail to step up to this call,” he said. “If you think high taxes and regulations are bad for our economy, so is global instability and the spread of totalitarianism.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, meanwhile, swiped at Mr. Obama by declaring him the “worst president” of his lifetime.

Still on tap at CPAC: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Sen. Rick Santorum and former Govs. Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.

Amid the early posturing for 2016, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that more GOP voters would “definitely” vote against all of the leading Republicans for president in 2016 than would vote for them.

For those GOP leaders looking at a possible run, that means they not only have their work cut out for them when it comes to taking on the Democrats, but much more work to do in winning over voters in their own party.

LINE ITEMS

  • The Senate voted Thursday to turn back legislation from New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand that would have stripped senior military commanders of their authority to prosecute sexual assault cases. Supporters fell five votes short of the 60 needed to move forward with the measure. Lawmakers did advance a separate proposal offered by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., that limits the use of the “good soldier defense,” which permits those accused to introduce good conduct as evidence of innocence. But there’s a silver lining for Gillibrand, notes the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe.

  • House lawmakers declined to censure Rep. Darrell Issa Thursday after the Congressional Black Caucus introduced a resolution demanding that Speaker John Boehner strip the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee of his gavel. The push by CBC members came after Issa cut off the microphone of Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., during a hearing on Wednesday. Issa has said he apologized to Cummings, but in an interview with Fox News, the California Republican accused his Democratic colleague of staging a “hissy fit.”

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., tells the Nation’s John Nichols that he is “prepared to run for president of the United States.”

  • A new Suffolk University poll puts Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., up 13 points on potential GOP challenger Scott Brown.

  • Senate Republicans, with the help of several Democrats, succeeded Wednesday in blocking the nomination of Debo Adegbile, the president’s choice to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

  • Ahead of Tuesday’s special election in Florida’s 13th district, national Republicans are growing increasingly angry at GOP nominee David Jolly.

  • Americans support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline by a nearly 3 to 1 margin, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. And while 85 percent think the project would create jobs, 47 percent think it will pose a significant risk to the environment.

  • Wisconsin Democrat Mary Burke slams Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s record on jobs in her first TV ad of the gubernatorial campaign. A Walker spokesperson responded that the spot signaled that Burke’s campaign would be “based on outright fabrications and distortions of the truth.”

  • Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins gets the lowdown on Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio’s impromptu foreign policy speech that went viral last month.

  • The New York Times editorial board is calling for a “major housecleaning” at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — starting with David Samson, whom Christie appointed as chair.

  • Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan will be the featured speaker at the Republican Party of Iowa’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner next month.

  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., will travel to the Hawkeye State this month as part of an effort to raise climate change as a key issue for voters to consider heading into 2016.

  • Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., is just the latest candidate to cast his daughters in his Senate campaign spot. Roll Call’s Abby Livingston looks at the trend over the past decade.

  • Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney endorsed Joni Ernst in Iowa’s GOP Senate primary contest. The Idaho Statesman, meanwhile, reports that Romney will campaign in Idaho later this month for Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Jim Risch and Rep. Mike Simpson.

  • National Journal’s Ron Brownstein explains how the demographic realignment that hurt the GOP in 2012’s presidential election could doom Democrats in this year’s midterms.

  • Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, announced Wednesday he would run for governor of New York this fall.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Gwen Ifill spoke with U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power about new sanctions against Russia and efforts to persuade Russia “to pull back from the brink” by emphasizing close economic ties.


  • Economics correspondent Paul Solman explores why statistics used to measure the health of our economy — like Friday’s jobs numbers — may not actually tell us that much. On Making Sen$e, author Zachary Karabell examines how measuring the unemployed grew out of a progressive reform movement.


  • Judy Woodruff spoke with special correspondent for education John Merrow about the College Board’s decision to overhaul the SAT.


TOP TWEETS

Simone Pathe and Ruth Tam contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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