NATIONAL HARBOR, MD—A famous conservative walks into a ballroom …. If he is sticking to tradition, he opens with a joke. Or a story that makes him look good or brave or important.
On Thursday, the American Conservative Union hosted a handful of high-profile Republicans at its annual Conservative Political Action Conference, some of whom are eyeing the 2016 Republican presidential race.They came to the Gaylord National Resort just south of Washington, D.C., to fire up the base, boost their profiles with the tea party party wing of the GOP or, in the case of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (who was pointedly not invited last year after cozying up to President Obama), to restore some lost luster.
Here's how they began their speeches:
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan: "Good morning. Guys, thanks. What can I say about that introduction? Well, it's the most recent introduction I've received. You know, when Al Cardenas asked me to speak this year, he said, 'Paul, I like to save the best for last. So you're up first thing Thursday morning.'"
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: "I want to start my remarks with a heartfelt and sincere apology, and I mean this. You know, I spent a lot of 2012 going around the country saying that President Obama was the most liberal and most incompetent president in my lifetime, ever since Jimmy Carter.
"Now, having witnessed the events abroad these last several days, as we see the president of Russia invade a neighboring country while our president wants to downsize our military, while our president brags about the increased spending on food stamps — seeing a president ... who doesn't seem to understand that our allies and our enemies alike need and want a strong America.
"You know, we have long thought and said this president is a smart man. It may be time to revisit that assumption, or at least to make a distinction between being book-smart and being truly wise. And so today, let it be heard — and I hope he's watching — to President Carter, I want to issue a sincere apology. It is no longer fair to say he was the worst president of this great country in my lifetime. President Obama has proven me wrong."
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida: "Thank you very much for that kind introduction. It reminded me of that race from a couple years ago when I came to CPAC to speak in January or February after getting elected. And let me tell you, it's pretty impressive when you get to Washington, you go into these meetings, you start looking around the room and you see so-and-so there on ‘Meet the Press.’ Look at so-and-so, he ran for president, look at so-and-so. It's pretty amazing. And you start wondering to yourself, man, how did I get here? And about six months later, you look around the same room, and you say, man, how did they get here?"
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: "I want to start off with a story from New Jersey.
"A few years ago, our pension funds and our public employee health benefit funds together was over $130 billion in debt. And we put together a plan to do the things that they should be doing here in Washington, D.C., on entitlements --raise the retirement age, end cost-of-living adjustments, more penalties for early retirement and more money being put into the system by the people who are actually benefiting from it.
"And after we proposed this, you can imagine that I was extraordinarily popular with the public employee unions. And so we decided to do what we do in New Jersey — not to go to the Chamber of Commerce and have a lunch. I decided to go to the New Jersey Firefighters' Convention …
"I came to the podium like this, and I said, as they were booing the hell out of me, 'Come on, you can do better than that. Let's go.' And they did. And then I said to them I had prepared remarks to make. And I took them, and I tore them up, and I threw it at the side of the stage.
"And I said, 'So here's the thing. I understand that you're angry, and I understand that you feel deceived, and I understand why you're booing. The only thing I don't understand is why you're booing the first person who's ever come here and told you the truth. The truth is that if we don't change these pensions, you're not going to collect them. That's the truth. And the fact is that for each and very one of you, you may hate me now, but 10 years from now, after I've made the changes that need to be made and you're collecting your pension, you'll be looking for my address on the Internet to send me a thank-you note for saving the retirement for you and your families.'
"The amazing thing that happened was that after I was done with those remarks and I ended — six minutes, seven minutes tops — I walked off the stage, and two-thirds of the audience was cheering."
4. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas: "Good morning. God bless CPAC. Now, I do have to start with a bit of bad news this morning. I'm sorry to tell you that by virtue of your being here today, tomorrow morning each and every one of you is going to be audited by the IRS. So I appreciate the courage of your convictions. You know, yesterday Lois Lerner went before Congress and yet again pleaded the Fifth. And of course, President Obama told Bill O'Reilly during the Super Bowl there's not a 'smidgen' of corruption with the IRS. Reminded me of one of my favorite movies: 'You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.'"
NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre: "It’s great to be here today, thanks for having me. I really appreciate your warm welcome. There must be some NRA members out there! To each of you, I thank you for being here with me and for your support and vigilance in defending our freedom. You and NRA members all over the country have made a real difference in making this nation and our freedoms safer.
"A little over a year ago, the NRA offered a simple, honest and effective proposal to make our schools safer. The political and media elites responded by calling me just about every nasty name in the book. You remember. But Americans responded differently. In city after county after school board after statehouse, teachers, parents, police and legislators agreed with us and put armed security safeguards in place.
"History has proven again the truth that President Obama and anti-freedom activists everywhere deny and try to suppress — the truth that firearms in the hands of good people save lives. The political elites can’t escape and the darlings of the liberal media can’t change the God-given right of good people to protect themselves. For that fundamental human right, the NRA stands unflinching and unapologetic. And in defense of our freedom, NRA’s 5 million members and America’s 100 million gun owners will not back down — not now, not ever!"
Billionaire businessman Donald Trump: "Thank you very much. You notice no TelePrompter. I just said, 'How many of these people are using TelePrompters?' They said, 'Almost all of them. So we can't do that.
"You know, I just left Trump National Doral in Miami. Great place. I just spent $250 million rebuilding it, making it the best resort in the country. I saw Tiger Woods this morning, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson. And I was dressed like this and they said, 'Where are you going?' And I said, 'I’m going to CPAC.' Now, I don’t know if they knew what I was talking about. They acted like they did. So that was very impressive."
On Friday, CPAC will hear from Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a CPAC and tea party favorite, is the final speaker on Saturday.
Reach me at @robinabcarian on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or by email. MORE FROM ROBIN ABCARIAN Coach is a hero to exasperated teachers Brandeis students nix Islam critic Blame feminism for women’s unhappiness?
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