Rick, Newt, Mitt: How Did Their CPAC Speeches Stack Up?

This year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) comes only months prior to a presidential election, one where the GOP is in hopes of retaking the White House. That being true, three of the four main presidential candidates — Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney — took to the podium in an attempt to convince the conservative faithful gathered there that they are the man to replace the horrendous Obama. 

The first contender that came before the CPAC crowd was former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, later former Governor Mitt Romney took the stage, and finally former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich addressed us, each trying to sell his candidacy. 

So how did the crowd react? What was the temperature of the reception? How successful were those speeches? 

Rick Santorum 

Santorum came out to the most applause of the three, for sure. As he and his family mounted the stage the crowd was obviously eager to hear what the candidate had to say.

“Conservatism did not fail this country,” began the meat of the former Pennsylvania Senator’s remarks, “conservatives failed conservatism.” 

Santorum said that in the past we, “listened to the voices that said we had to abandon our principles and our values to get things done, to win.” But no more compromise, he said. “The lesson we’ve learned is that we will no longer abandon and apologize for the policies and principles that made this country great for a hollow victory in November.” 

Santorum went on to say that Obamacare was a “game changer” and with it, as the British found with their system, we will never be free again. “It’s about government control of our lives and it’s gotta stop,” he asserted to great applause. 

Santorum ripped global warming and Obama’s fealty to cap and trade, he said that Romney couldn’t fight Obama on Obamacare because of Romneycare. He also attacked Mitt for instituting cap and trade inMass.when he was governor. Interestingly, Santorum was the only one of the three that spent so much time ribbing the other GOP candidates. 

So, how did he do?  Well, his speech was perfectly fine, but there were surprisingly few opportunities for applause.  Newt, on the other hand, had dozens of applause lines.  Only a few times did Senator Sanoturm get heavy and enthusiastic applause during the presentation. He seemed to be delivering his speech without reading it or using a teleprompter and it was competently and passionately delivered, but once again he proved he needs a voice coach or a presentation coach. Rick’s delivery is too much the monotone. Of course that is a style question, not substance and for substance his speech was good enough. 

One might be tempted to feel that Santorum missed his opportunity to really rile up the base with a rip-roaring speech. He just didn’t give us that. Instead we got a steady, competent speech. One might also hasten to note that Rick was being Rick – nothing phony about him, for sure. 

Mitt Romney 

Governor Romney began with a joke, like all good Friars Club speakers. “I suppose we should also acknowledge President Obama,” Romney quipped. “He is the conservative movement’s top recruiter. Turns out he really is a good community organizer, I just don’t think this is the community he planned on organizing, but he did.” 

I have to say, Romney’s speech hit all the correct points Hitting Obama on all his failed policies, touting his own electability, his pro-life credentials, and his economic prowess, Romney’s speech was filled with what conservatives always like to hear. Governor Romney absolutely delivered his speech well with humor and verve. If you knew nothing of Romney’s past, he would certainly seem the sincere, ideal conservative candidate. 

But you have to realize that this audience was not by and large supportive of Romney. His speech had more applause lines than Santorum’s, of course, but that applause was nothing if not merely “polite.” Some may even say tepid. He only had a few spates of sustained applause with one standing ovation. 

I had the feeling that most of the audience simply didn’t believe Mitt’s repeated claim that he and his principles and record were “conservative.” 

For instance, Gov. Romney said at one point that he spent his life “keeping as far away from government as humanly possible.” But does that square with reality? He’s been running for various offices since the early 1990s — and without much success it must be noted. Romney tooted his “I’m not aWashingtonguy” horn several times in this speech, saying he’s never worked in DC. But, who cannot realize that the phrase “not for lack of trying to run for office, Mitt” occurred to the mind of every participant there.

He did receive one standing ovation line when he said that he wasn’t ashamed of his record in business. Still, for the most part his applause was of the polite variety. 

Newt Gingrich 

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich came to the stage to raucous applause after being introduced by his lovely wife, Callista. Gingrich hit the ground running with Reagan on his lips by recounting his days as Speaker and touting all the conservative victories that were had in those golden days. 

The crowd dutifully applauded those Reagan references but held its breath when Newt went on. “Let me say to the Republican establishment in this city,” Newt said sternly, “crony Capitalism in Congress is fully as bad as crony capitalism on Wall Street and they had better clean up the Congress if they expect to be reelected.” 

Oh, there he goes again, the crowd collectively thought, attacking capitalism. Only a few hands were put together for that one, for sure. Fortunately, after that mention, Newt moved on leaving the subject behind. 

From there Newt went into the same litany of policies and “bold solutions to getAmericaworking again today” that he’s talked about on the stump many times and places. But the interesting thing is that Newt drew hearty applause throughout his speech. Gingrich may not have introduced anything new into his comments before the faithful, but his performance was very well received. 

So, what about these three? How did they fare before the crowd? Newt was a crowd pleaser with laughs and much applause. Santorum didn’t give the crowd many opportunities for applause, but they gave him standing ovations on his opening and closing — the crowd clearly wanted to love him. Mitt, on the other hand, was politely received and that is about it. 

The truth is, the crowd at CPAC seemed to pretty much reflect how these candidates have been received by the greater GOP electorate. Everyone wants to love Rick but he doesn’t give us that wow-factor we are looking for. For his part, Newt is loved for his great ideas (more or less), his commanding presence during a speech, and his bulldog attitude against the Old Media, yet there is just something that makes them feel uneasy about him. And Mitt?  Well, Mitt is accepted by many as “the one that can win,” but his claims of being the strongest conservative in the room rings hollow. 

Meanwhile, the campaign slogs onward, all still not settled. Plainly, neither of these candidates sealed the deal at CPAC 2012.

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