NATIONAL HARBOR, Md — Utah Sen. Mike Lee brought a message of work yet to be done in the Republican Party to conservatives gathered at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland Thursday.
“President Obama and the Democrats have done everything they can to deserve defeat,” Lee said. “But the Republican Party has not yet done what it must to deserve victory. We’ve not yet won back the trust of the American people, or explained exactly why they should give it to us, 2014 must be the year we change that.”
According to the Utah conservative, unlike many of CPAC’s other speakers who will “inspire,” “flatter” or “claim solidarity with you,” he came to challenge.
“The work remaining before us, this year and for the next three years, is the most important work conservatives have faced in a generation,” Lee said. “It is the work of redefining our movement, of redefining and rebuilding our party and rescuing our nation.”
Lee was pessimistic about how the conservative movement will fare without that unglamorous focus on rebuilding and constructing a problem-solving agenda.
“If conservatives do not do this work, we will, well lose in 2014, and in 2016 and beyond. We will lose, and we will deserve to lose,” he said. “And whether the people at this podium are willing to do that work depends on whether the people in this audience — and conservatives in communities around the country — demand it.”
He recalled Ronald Reagan’s 1977 call at the fourth CPAC for a New Republican Party, in the face of the so-called Washington Establishment, voicing the need for a party devoted to principles and optimism.
“Conservatives then went about the hard, heroic work of applying timeless principles to timely problems to pivot from purges to persuasion, from protest to reform,” he said. ”And those in the establishment never knew what hit them.”
Lee called for conservatives to recreate Reagan’s overthrow of the establishment by creating an agenda that takes on the current challenge, which he pinned as an “opportunity deficit” which he said is the “real problem of inequality,” as opposed to income inequality.
“I am here to tell you, those solutions are not coming from the Washington establishment. A new generation of conservative ideas must come from a new generation of conservative leaders, and for the first time in a long time, they are,” he said pointing to conservative lawmakers as a new generation who are creating new policies and ideas to unite the party around conservatism and solve problems.
“We have an agenda. And contrary to the Establishment’s advice, we’re not hiding it from the media or the American people, or from you,” he said. “It’s time for the Republican Party to stop talking about Ronald Reagan and start acting like him. Conservatives can’t afford to win elections by default. We need to win elections with a mandate.”
He concluded by calling on attendees to ignore personalities and vote for people with real policies.
“Before conservatives can celebrate victory, we first must deserve it,” he said.