NATIONAL HARBOR, MD – CPAC got off to a sluggish start on Thursday morning, but by early that afternoon, conservative activists where already thinking about the 2016 presidential election. Speaking one after the other, Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul brought the conference to life and packed the expansive room for the first time at this year’s conference.
A lot of Republican elected officials and potential presidential candidates are given an opportunity to speak to the CPAC audience, but what they do with the time allotted for them to speak is up to them. Senator Rubio didn’t play a game of political hide and seek with his audience. His 20-minute address was about as close to a presidential stump speech as you will ever find at CPAC. His willingness to give that type of speech in 2013 seems to indicate that the fresh-faced senator from Florida is seriously going to explore a presidential bid.
Rubio’s CPAC speech wasn’t his first taste of national exposure. He dazzled Republicans at the 2012 national convention with his address there, and just last month, he gave the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address. As people have come to expect, Rubio was electric, but what made his speech at CPAC on Thursday different than his previous high profile speeches was the subject matter.
Rubio spoke forcibly on social issues, and rejected the notion that Republicans must compromise their principles to win elections. “Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot,” he told a cheering audience. Rubio then transitioned to talk about the life issue, where he called for protecting life “at every stage of its development.”
The Florida Senator then added, “The people who are actually closed-minded in American politics are the people who love to preach about the certainty of science with regards to our climate, but ignore the absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception.”
Rubio also advocated for school choice, the need to strengthen families, and a harsh rebuke of China and its new president Xi Jinping. The only issue missing from Senator Rubio’s speech was immigration. Rubio has taken the lead on immigration reform, which is often a difficult issue with conservatives.
The outline of Rubio’s speech is perfect for a state like Iowa that will once again host the First in the Nation Caucuses in 2016. What sets him apart from Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, the past two winners of the Iowa Republican Caucuses, is that Rubio will never be pigeonholed as just a social conservative like they were. While Huckabee and Santorum were always considered long shot prospects because of their beliefs, Rubio is already a darling of the media. But then again, that could change if he keeps giving speeches like the one he gave on Thursday afternoon.
The media elites probably didn’t like it, but Iowa caucus goers will absolutely fall in love with him if he gives that speech on the campaign trail in Iowa. The only people who probably disliked Rubio’s CPAC speech more than the media would be Rick Santorum and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. If they watched it live, they probably yelled, “he’s stealing my material” at the television set.
Let the 2016 games begin!
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