The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)  

Santorum offers yell-O at mellow CPAC event

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Likely GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum used his Friday slot at the annual CPAC event to shake things up by calling for GOP policies that aid working Americans, rather than the employers usually favored by the GOP establishment.

“I’ve always felt an obligation to come to CPAC and be a contrarian,” Santorum told The Daily Caller after his speech, given just a few miles from central Washington D.C.

Santorum’s pitch was a break from the event’s orchestrated show of establishment unity against President Barack Obama, say numerous attendees.

CPAC’s organizers downplayed and sidelined the many furious intra-GOP debates about foreign policy, crony capitalism, sex and society, tea party efforts to unseat incumbent GOP legislators, student loans, conservatives’ reform agendas and the progressive movement’s push for increased immigration.

Those hot-button topics are taboo among the business-friendly leaders that dominate the GOP.

Instead, the organizers highlighted morale-building speeches by establishment and libertarian Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul.

“We must stop this president from shredding the constitution,” Paul declared to applause from the many young people who may choose to become campaign volunteers.

“Mr. President, we will not let you run roughshod over our rights…we will not let you shred our constitution,” Paul declared to more applause, during his Friday speech.

Paul’s turn at the podium came right after Santorum, who had used his time to slam GOP advocates who only criticize Obama without offering an agenda that can win a critical mass of economically worried swing-voters.

“People come out on this stage and they bang away on President Obama. It is fun, I know that, it is always easy,” Santorum said. “Get it our of your system, because after you leave here, we’ve got a job to do, we’ve got to win, and we will win not by further dividing, but by uniting,” he concluded, in a polite but divisive statement.

Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of FreedomWorks, wanted a much more dramatic agenda at CPAC.

“It is a little too establishment for my taste… it’s a feel-good event,” he told TheDC.

The organizers, he said, ignored “the whole debate that is happening behind the scenes in the conservative movement — do we win by standing for something or do we win by not talking and having a beauty pageant?”

“The self-proclaimed leaders of the GOP and the conservative movement want to tell us who the candidate should be, they want to decide who should go onstage [but] outside the [convention] center… there’s lot of energy in that decentralization,” he added.

For example, CPAC could have hosted debates between GOP legislators and their challengers in the Republican primaries, he said. “That would be awesome…it would have been real,” he said.

“I was hoping here would be some good battles here, defining battles on various issues,” such as amnesty, said talk-show host Steve Kelley, who hosts a Denver show titled “Kelley & Co.”

Instead, he said, “it’s basically a giant cheerleading event.”

Oregon-based radio host Lars Larson said he wanted “a bit more pro-life, a bit more anti-amnesty.” When established GOP leaders “talk about immigration reform, what they really mean is immigration expansion, which is bad for the budget, bad for the deficit and bad for the American worker,” he said.

Some of the top organizers of the event, including Grover Norquist and Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, are prominent advocates of large scale immigration.

Last summer, the Senate passed a bill that would invite 40 million new immigrant or guest-workers to compete for jobs against the 40 million Americans who will turn 18 during the next decade. The GOP House leadership has not advanced the Senate bill, partly because polls show its terms are very unpopular among GOP supporters.

The event should have featured “more about defense, about Ukraine,” Larson added.

“Economic conservatism and libertarianism… tend to be predominant here at CPAC,” said William Cole Smith, a vice-president at World magazine, which is a social-conservative outlet with a mostly Christian audience.

“Social conservatives would like to have seen more focus on same-sex marriage, abortion, the social issues that we think are really undermining our culture,” he said. “Many of us believe the economic issues and other more political issues are downstream from these cultural issues, and those important cultural issues are not getting that kind of play here,” Smith said.

House Representative Allen West called for a greater focus on national security. “The main thing that we really need to have a resurgence in is talking about foreign policy and national security,” West said.

“The most important responsibility for the federal government is to provide for the common defense,” he said.

Cardenas, however, called for GOP supporters to rally behind their established leaders.

“As conservatives, we must recognize that success only comes when we focus on the biggest threats to our freedom and our liberty,” Cardenas said Friday.

“And our biggest threats are not coming in the form of other conservatives… [but] from liberals and if we are to effectively battle the forces that endanger our country, we must not battle each other,” he insisted.

“We have far too much work to do to spent one more minute caught up on the internal workings in our movement,” Cardenas said.

The FreedomWorks head disagreed.“I think being authentic is a better strategy,” said Kibbe.

“That’s how we get independents and conservations and tea partiers and libertarians who have opted out of Republican politics to participate,” he said. “Putting out a phony show leaves them at home” on election day, he said.

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