Three of the four remaining Republican presidential candidates made their policy pitches Friday and Saturday to conservative grassroots voters at a conference outside Washington, D.C.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas took their turns at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in separate speeches. The fourth remaining candidate—businessman Donald Trump—canceled his planned Saturday appearance the day before, saying he wanted to travel instead to Kansas and Florida.
The Daily Signal compiled some of the policy highlights offered by Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich to set themselves apart from President Barack Obama and other Democrats:
Sen. Ted Cruz:
If he were to win the Republican nomination, Cruz told the audience Friday night, he plans on making the general election about three things: jobs, liberty, and security.
- Small Business Regulations
Cruz said the “heart of the economy isn’t Washington, D.C. It’s not New York City. The heart of our economy is the small businesses all over this country.”
“You want to crush the economy? Hammer small business like we have over the last seven years,” Cruz said. “You want to unchain the economy? Lift the boot of the government off the backs of the necks of small businesses.”
Cruz said he would abolish the Internal Revenue Service and install an across-the-board flat tax in its place. The Texas Republican said that under a Cruz administration, taxpayers could calculate what they owe “on the back of a postcard.”
Cruz told the crowd that he would “repeal every word of Obamacare.” In its place, he promised to lead the effort to pass “common sense health care reform.” That plan, he said, would “make health care personal, portable, and affordable.”
It would “keep government from getting between us and our doctors,” Cruz said.
- Illegal Immigration
Border security is a top issue, Cruz said. “Immigration is a law enforcement matter. Immigration is a national security matter. But at its heart, immigration is an economic matter,” he said, adding:
When you allow 12 million people to come to this country illegally, you take away millions of jobs from U.S. citizens and from legal immigrants and you drive down wages for everyone.
- Supreme Court
Until after the next president is elected, Senate Republicans have pledged to keep open the seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. So, Cruz noted, the election is about the control of two branches of government.
Cruz, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said a liberal justice could tip the ideological balance of the court with significant consequences.
“We are one liberal justice away from the Supreme Court ruling that government can take our religious liberty away and force every one of us to violate our faith on penalty of prison or poverty,” he said.
In Cruz’s view, a liberal nominee could endanger the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment, and even the war memorials of veterans.
- National Security
Cruz promised to be a strong commander in chief, “willing to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’” After identifying the enemy, Cruz said, he would deploy overwhelming force.
“America has always been reluctant to use military force. We are slow to anger,” he said. “But if and when military force is required, we should use overwhelming force, kill the enemy, and then get the heck out.”
Dismissing charges that he is a warmonger, Cruz said his national security outlook is “exactly the opposite.”
“I believe, like Ronald Reagan, in peace through strength. I actually think the weakness of Barack Obama invites military conflict and it encourages our enemies,” he said.
- ‘Blue Lives Matter’
When Fox News host Sean Hannity joined Cruz on stage, the Texas senator answered one question rhetorically: “When did it become controversial to say every human being is precious?”
Critiquing the Black Lives Matter movement, Cruz accused Democratic rivals of being afraid to say “all lives matter.” Pointing to New York City, he credited the New York Police Department with dramatically reducing the murder rate. He said:
Talk about the thousands of black lives that have been saved because of the bravery of our police officers. All lives matter, but let me tell you blue lives matter. And we will stand with the men and women who protect us.
Sen. Marco Rubio
Rubio addressed a wide range of issues Saturday, including abortion and the fundamentals of conservatism. The Florida senator first made a speech to CPAC attendees, then took questions from CNN reporter Dana Bash.
- Founding Principles
Rubio began with the main ingredients of America’s founding.
“What will solve our problems is a specific set of ideas built on the bedrock of principles that made America the greatest nation to begin with and applying those principles to the challenges of this new century—and those principles are not complicated,” Rubio said.
He stressed that while many liberals believe rights come from government, conservatives such as himself disagree.
“It begins with the notion that this nation was founded on a powerful, spiritual principle that our rights do not come from government,” Rubio said. “Our rights do not come from our laws. Our rights do not come from our leaders. Our rights come from God.”
- Limited Government
Rubio, first elected to the Senate in 2010, rejected the idea that government is needed to solve problems Americans face in their everyday lives.
“We have reached a moment in our history where we think that every problem in America has to have a federal government solution,” he said. “Every problem in America does not have a federal government solution. In fact, most problems in America do not have a federal government solution, and many are created by the federal government to begin with.”
- Free Enterprise
In many of Rubio’s speeches, he recalls his parents’ backgrounds, and his CPAC address was no different. Both Cuban-born immigrants, his mother worked as a maid and his father as a bartender.
His parents worked hard to build good lives for their four children, Rubio said, and he attributed that opportunity to free enterprise.
“Do you know why my parents had a job? Because free enterprise works,” he said. “Because someone created those jobs. With those jobs, they were able to feed their families and raise them and buy a home for a better future. Free enterprise is the best economic system in the history of the world because it’s the only system where you can make poor people richer and you don’t have to make rich people poorer.”
- National Defense
In outlining the key tenets of conservatism, Rubio emphasized the need for a strong national defense, but also stressed that showing strength doesn’t always mean going to war.
“Conservatism means believing in a strong national defense not because we love war, but because we love peace, because history has taught us a painful lesson that weakness is the enemy of peace.”
- Supreme Court
Senate Democrats continue to accuse Republicans of obstruction for their decision not to hold hearings for anyone Obama nominates to fill Scalia’s seat on the nation’s highest court. Rubio is among Senate Republicans stressing that the American people, voting for a new president in November, should have a say in who the next justice is.
“The Supreme Court can function with eight justices. The number nine is set by Congress. I’m not advocating we do this, but if we wanted to change it to eight or seven, we could. There’s no magic number nine,” Rubio said.
He warned of the consequences of allowing Obama to appoint a new justice during his last year in office.
“This president is completely unaccountable. He is going to be nominating someone to what is basically a lifetime appointment, and we can’t hold it against him in an election,” Rubio said. “So we’re going to have a debate in this country over this. There’s going to be an election in November. God willing, we’re going to nominate and elect a conservative. That conservative will then appoint, I hope, someone more like Justice Scalia than the kind of nominees we’ve gotten out of this president.”
Rubio said he supports aggressive, or enhanced, interrogation techniques when necessary to obtain crucial information from terrorists.
“You cannot use the same interrogation techniques on a terrorist that you do on a criminal. Here’s why. When you are interrogating a criminal, what you are trying to do is gather evidence for a trial so you can convict them,” Rubio said:
When you are interrogating a terrorist, what you are trying to do is gather information to prevent a future terrorist attack. It’s not about evidence for trial. And I don’t talk about interrogating techniques. Do you know why I don’t talk about interrogation techniques? Because when you describe interrogation techniques, terrorists can now, and they do, practice evading interrogation techniques—how to evade telling you the truth.
“So we are going to interrogate terrorists, but right now that’s not even an issue,” he said.
Rubio said he would leave open the detention center for captured enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a facility Obama wants to close.
“Right now Barack Obama doesn’t send [terrorists] anywhere. He’s releasing terrorists from Guantanamo,” Rubio said. “Who are we gonna interrogate? When I’m president, if we capture a terrorist, they’re going to Guantanamo, and we will find out everything they know.”
- Abortion and the Sanctity of Life
Rubio said he believes life begins at conception, and told CPAC attendees how his Christian faith determines his pro-life stance.
“My faith influences me to believe that all human life, all human life, is worthy of the protection of our laws.”
- Race Relations
CNN’s Bash, using a question from the social media site Twitter, asked Rubio how he would unite the country, particularly in a time of growing racial tensions and violence against police officers.
“We have tremendous admiration and respect for our police officers, and I thank God every day for what they do for our families,” Rubio said.
The Florida senator acknowledged a growing divide between and among races, then turned the issue back to free enterprise.
“I also think in this country, irrespective of police departments, putting aside the police department issue, yes, there are significant number of Americans that live in majority minority communities who think they’re locked out of the American dream,” Rubio said. “And if a significant percentage of the American family feels like they’re being left behind, we have an issue, and we have to confront it.”
“And here’s how we’re going to confront it. We’re going to confront it by embracing free enterprise. It is the only economic model in the world where you can make people better off without pulling anyone else down.” He added:
I believe free enterprise works because I’ve lived it. My parents would never have been able to achieve for our family what they achieved in America anywhere else on the planet. Because almost anywhere else in the world, your future is decide by whether or not your parents are the right people or connected to the right people. Not in America. That’s not who we’ve been. That’s not who we’re going to be. … In the end, all this hyphenation stuff, that’s fine, but we’re all Americans.
Gov. John Kasich
- Treatment for Drug Abusers, Mentally Ill
In a nod toward criminal justice reform in his speech Friday afternoon, Kasich called for providing treatment for drug users and the mentally ill as alternatives to prison.
“I come from the [Ronald] Reagan and [Jack] Kemp school,” Kasich said. “When our economies are doing better, we have an obligation to reach out to those people who live in the shadows, to give them an opportunity to achieve their God-given potential—that means the mentally ill.
“The mentally ill should not be sleeping under a bridge or living in our prisons. They have a right to be treated and get on their feet and assume their God-given purpose. Let’s give everyone a chance to rise.”
- Appeal to Millennials
Kasich implored an audience largely made up of millennials to keep their faith, chase their dreams, and give back.
“I have a message to the young people who are here today,” Kasich said. “You should all know that that you were all made special. Nobody has ever been made like you and no one ever will.
“I believe the Lord makes us special for a special purpose. And your job is to find those gifts and live a life bigger than yourself, and change the world in which you live.”
- State Powers
The Ohio governor and former congressman said he believes the private sector should drive the economy, and that local and state government are better boosters of economic success than the federal government.
“The strength of our country, the vitality of our country, the spirit of our country, rests in our families, our neighbors, our communities, our states,” Kasich said, adding:
Don’t wait for somebody to come and fix the problems where you are. Fix them yourself. Send education, welfare, infrastructure, healthcare for the poor, and job training, all back to where you live, and you’ll have more power because we have to run America from the bottom up. That’s what works.
- Limited Government
Kasich said he would fulfill traditional Republican priorities, promising fewer regulations and taxes and a balanced budget.
He said it is important for a president to develop a strong working relationship with Congress.
“I am going to [have] a plan to reduce federal regulations, to reduce taxes on businesses and individuals, and have a plan to balance the budget,” Kasich said. “We are going to fix Social Security, fix the border, have immigration taken care of, and restore relations with our allies.
“We need shock and awe down there and to say to the Congress, this is where we are going, let’s get together.”
- Technology and Innovation
Government should stay out of the way when companies such as Uber shake up an industry with innovative ideas, Kasich said.
“Let’s Uberize the federal government,” Kasich said. “Let’s Uberize all the government, and bring technology, innovation, and the speed of business to everything we do in government, and have some guts. The fact of the matter is we need to welcome innovation and change. It makes us new, fresh, and alive again.”
Kasich said U.S. ground troops will be required to defeat the Islamic State, the terrorist army also known as ISIS, in Iraq and Syria. But, he said, a combat force should be led by allied countries closer to the fight.
“We have to do just like what we did to get Saddam [Hussein] out of Kuwait,” Kasich said. “You get the Arabs, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and others, and bring our Western allies in the air, on the ground and destroy ISIS.”
The Ohio governor also spoke against regime change in places such as Syria or Iran, saying America’s primary focus should be protecting the homeland and its immediate interests:
Don’t be a nation builder and don’t think you can convince all of these people to our way of life. It’s not going to happen. You go to war, you win the war, and you don’t fool around with it. Unfortunately, you cannot win this in the air. You have to take ground.
Destroy them, settle it down and come home; let them draw the map, and don’t be the policeman of the world. We have to lead or nothing will happen and ISIS will grow bigger and dig in deeper.