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.”
DeMint was followed by another presidential candidate, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. Bachmann worked the hometown crowd, opening with, “I love New Orleans! You survived Katrina! You survived President Obama’s oil moratorium! There is nothing you can’t survive! You have such a great spirit, you inspire America!”
While the crowd wasn’t quite as loud for Bachmann as for the previous candidates, she earned great applause on a number of lines, such as “I will not rest until we repeal Obamacare!,” “President Bachmann will allow you to buy any light bulb you want!,” and (now in the absence of many of Paul’s antiwar supporters), “I stand with Israel!”
Bachmann brought the convention to a standstill for nearly half an hour after her speech when she went into the crowd to sign autographs and take pictures; leaving the final presidential candidate’s speech from Sen. Rick Santorum as something of an afterthought.
Later, Bachmann dodged a question from The Daily Caller about why she didn’t join Paul in the lawsuit against the White House despite her professed opposition to the bombing of Libya.
When pressed by TheDC on whether or not Obama should be impeached if he continues the Libyan campaign without Congressional approval after the three-month deadline set forward in the War Powers Act, she said only, “We’ll see about that.”
Meanwhile, the audience in the ballroom was dwindling for the address by Santorum, who evinced a concern that “America will slip away.” Santorum then left the hotel almost unnoticed while hundreds of Paul supporters gathered a block away for a meet-and-greet to network and snap a picture with the candidate.
Voting in the straw poll will continue Saturday, and the winner will be announced mid-afternoon.