Day two of the 2011 Republican Leadership Conference marked the arrival of fresh blood in the form of younger (and older) supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, in town to support their candidate by voting in the conference’s presidential straw poll.
Their presence was evident during the speech by former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and presidential candidate Herman Cain, who immediately preceded Paul. Cain opened by needling media bigwigs such as Bill O’Reilly, and Karl Rove by telling them, “I didn’t get the memo that I’m not supposed to run! I’m running!”
Cain was generally well-received. But when he moved on to foreign policy and told the audience that, “When you mess with Israel you are messing with the United States of America!,” Paul’s dovish supporters made their presence known by breaking up the applause with just as many boos.
Cain still elicited unanimous cheers form the crowd by hitting on reliable topics such as slashing taxes across the board. When he turned to energy, Cain asked the audience if America could meet its own energy needs and led a call-and-response chorus with the answer being, “Yes we Cain!”
Next was the congressman from Texas. Even with rows of extra chairs brought in, the Paul crowd filled the room to standing-room only.
Paul took credit for moving the debate on several issues since his 2008 campaign. He first cited the growing backlash against the Transportation Security Administration’s aggressive warrantless searches at the airports. (Paul’s home state of Texas is considering a measure to prosecute TSA agents who grope without a warrant.)
Paul then pointed out the growing Republican opposition to the current wars abroad – and indeed, frontrunner Mitt Romney made waves earlier this week by suggesting it was almost time to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Paul cited Ronald Reagan’s withdrawal of troops from Lebanon as an antecedent of his own foreign policy.
“When he found out how irrational politics was in that region, he decided it was necessary to get out,” he said.
When Paul cited greater support for oversight of the Federal Reserve –- Newt Gingrich’s biggest applause line Thursday night -– the ballroom broke out in a raucous chant of, “End the Fed! End the Fed!”
Paul predicted that the Fed’s “quantitative easing” policy would continue to lead to inflation and “stagflation” which “will be much worse next year and will be a big issue in next year’s campaign.”
Paul then went back to foreign policy and mentioned the bipartisan lawsuit filed by ten members of Congress, including himself, seeking to have the courts declare the White House’s bombing of Libya unconstitutional. When he spoke of his bill to take the United States out of the United Nations, the cheers were so loud the rest of his thoughts on the matter were drowned out.
The congressman hit upon some more esoteric issues before winding up his speech, such as legalizing raw milk, marijuana and industrial hemp. Upon his conclusion, loud cheers of “Ron Paul! Ron Paul!” arose from the audience as many of his supporters poured out from the ballroom, uninterested anyone else.
The next speaker, Sen. Jim DeMint, professed five minutes later as the exodus continued that, “I used to think you were crazy Ron, but I’m beginning to feel a bit crazy myself.”