Three prominent Republican senators – all rumored presidential candidates in 2016 – today projected their visions for the future of the party during the first day of the Road to Majority conference in Washington.

Utah’s Mike Lee, with perhaps the lowest public profile of the three, used his limited microphone time to say that, if conservatives were to wrest control of the Senate and White House, the GOP must advance meaningful policy rather than simply roll back existing law.

Marco Rubio of Florida worked to strike a personal connection with the audience in a basement ballroom of the Omni Shoreham hotel.

Rubio once again told the rags-to-riches tale of his parents, who emigrated from Cuba and raised a famous politician, to make the larger point about the importance of maintaining traditional American values. He criticized the nation’s education system and the high cost of college, and, surprisingly to some, took jabs at big business.

Rubio’s remarks came little more than a week after a college economics professor David Brat booted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., from office in an upset primary victory capping a campaign against big corporations that he said were backing Cantor.

Then came Ted Cruz of Texas, who worked the ballroom as if it were a town hall meeting, characteristically circling the stage like a boxer and avoiding the podium. Cruz riled up the crowd by warning of a political landscape and society that threatens liberty.

But, Cruz said, “leadership will bring us back from the precipice.”

Below, The Daily Signal highlights some quotes and other moments from the senators at the opening of the three-day Road to Majority conference, sponsored by the Faith and Freedom Coalition and touted as the “premier event for people of faith and conservative activists.”

Mike Lee

  • Said he wants Republicans to take control of government in more than a literal sense:

To enact conservative policies, we will need conservative majorities in the House and Senate, but this alone is not enough. To fix our broken government it’s not enough simply to roll back ineffective policies that concentrate power in Washington—we must also roll out bold conservative reforms that empower the people closest to the problems to test and refine solutions that work best for their communities.

  • Hinted at a run for president, saying:  “It may seem like a long haul to get from our starting point today to the end of the road where a conservative president is leading the effort to enact bold conservative reforms, but there’s no place I’d rather be.”
  • Observed, in a comment that drew a “hear, hear,” from a flag-waving gentleman, that  “we have become far too comfortable with the word trillion in our political discourse.”


Marco Rubio

  • Called for fewer federal regulations governing business but more rules to run higher education. Schools should have to warn students who take out loans about what their graduates earn, “so that the Greek philosophy majors will understand that the market for Greek philosophers is tight.”
  • Told the story of his grandfather, first in the family to read and write and worker of odd jobs in a cigar factory and railroad station. Hard work still pays, Rubio said, but the path to success requires more education and skills. He referred to colleges and universities as “our existing education cartel” and said Americans should stop stigmatizing blue-collar jobs.
  • Proposed that more Americans lean on their families to overcome challenges brought on by an increasingly global, competitive world, saying: “The single greatest contributor to poverty is the breakdown of families. We have to talk about this. We need to tell people it’s important to keep your family together.”


Ted Cruz

  • Greeted the crowd with the memorable line: “Welcome to the swamp,” referring to Washington and its propensity for causing people to have “poli-ticks.”
  • Referenced a litany of current events – such as the “extermination” of Christians in Iraq, the Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court and the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups – as examples of how there has been “no time in history where threats to liberty are more dire than now.”
  • Called on President Obama to speak out against the persecution of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, who is facing a death sentence in Sudan for her Christian faith. “We need leadership,” Cruz said. “We need the president to say in no uncertain terms, ‘Send Meriam home.’”