The Conservative Political Action Conference got off to a fast start Thursday, with no less than six potential 2016 GOP presidential contenders pitching themselves to the GOP’s activist base.
Here are three takeaways from the day’s proceedings:
1.) Carly Fiorina is a serious VP contender
Most of the potential 2016 GOP contenders who spoke Thursday at CPAC did a fine enough job — at least no one screwed up in a major way — but by far the most entertaining speech came from Carly Fiorina.
The former Hewlett-Packard CEO’s speech was part-autobiographical, part-blistering attack on Hillary Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.
“Like Mrs. Clinton, I too have traveled the globe,” Fiorina said. “Unlike Mrs. Clinton, I know that flying is an activity, not an accomplishment.”
“Mrs. Clinton, name an accomplishment,” she demanded. “And in the meantime, please explain why we should accept that the millions and millions of dollars that have flowed into the Clinton Foundation from foreign governments don’t represent a conflict of interest.”
Fiorina wasn’t done yet.
Hillary Clinton “tweets about women’s rights in this country and takes money from governments that deny women the most basic human rights,” Fiorina lambasted. “She tweets about equal pay for women but won’t answer basic questions about her own offices’ pay standards — and neither will our President. Hillary likes hashtags. But she doesn’t know what leadership means.”
Fiorina’s speech was well crafted and expertly delivered. Though she is reportedly considering entering the 2016 race, one suspects she is really angling for the vice presidential slot. And a compelling VP pick she could possibly be. She would be the Hillary Clinton attack dog on the ticket, able to stick it to Hillary without giving the media an opening to accuse the GOP of sexism.
2.) CPAC hearts Israel
With Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on the Iranian nuclear threat approaching, the Obama administration is no longer hiding its disdain for the Israeli prime minister. But at CPAC Thursday, one only heard kind words about Israel and its prime minister from the dais.
“We need a leader who will stand with Israel, and we need a leader who understands that when the prime minister and leader of our longtime ally asks to come to Congress to share his concerns about Iran we should show him and his country our respect,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said during his speech. “We need to show the world that in America you have no better ally and no greater enemy.”
“Let’s not turn our back on Israel. Let’s listen to Netanyahu and what he has to say,” neurosurgeon and likely 2016 presidential contender Ben Carson said during his speech.
“So there’s not a single Democrat here? It’s almost like CPAC invited Benjamin Netanyahu to speak,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz quipped at the beginning of his CPAC speech. While speaking of how the audience must demand action from their potential candidates, not just talk, Cruz said that “if a candidate tells you they stand with the Nation of Israel,” that “terrific,” but ask them, “when have you stood and fought?”
“I know Bibi Netanyahu,” Fiorina said during her CPAC speech. “As I sat in his office five years ago, he spoke then of the dangers posed by Iran. He travels here next week not to offend our president, but to warn the American people that our President’s insistence on a deal with Iran at all costs is a danger to the world.”
3.) Non-interventionism is out of style — that is, if it ever was actually in-style
Remember all that commentary back in 2013 and 2014 about the Republican Party adopting a non-interventionist foreign policy?
That commentary was wildly overstated at the time, but if you were still under the impression that the GOP was turning inward, day one of CPAC should have disabused you of that notion.
Most of the potential 2016 contenders spoke about the need to act more aggressively against the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“I want a commander-in-chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat of radical Islamic terrorism does not wash up on American soil,” Walker said, demanding the U.S. “take the fight” to ISIS. “If I could take on 100,000 protesters, I could do the same across the world.”
“The mission that I would give our military is to destroy them first and I wouldn’t tie their hands,” stated Ben Carson, speaking of ISIS.
Saying he wants Congress to give President Obama more authority to act against ISIS than the president is even asking for, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal stated what he would tell America’s generals if he was commander-in-chief.
“[W]e want our military leaders to do whatever it takes, not to degrade, contain or expel, but to hunt down and kill these radical Islamic terrorists,” he said.
The truth is the GOP was never really becoming a party of non-interventionists. The media simply misinterpreted the House’s reluctance to authorize military force against Syria in September 2013 with an overall shift in the main thrust of the GOP’s foreign policy philosophy. Remember, even former UN Ambassador John Bolton, who no one has ever accused of being a non-interventionist, opposed using force in Syria, for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with lessening America’s footprint in the world.
What seems abundantly clear is that the 2016 GOP presidential contenders — with the possible exception of one candidate — will be campaigning on varying degrees of hawkishness, not varying degrees of non-interventionism.