CPAC 2015: GOP White House contenders unite against Hillary Clinton

Washington CNN  — 

The year’s biggest conservative confab features thousands of activists, elected officials and party leaders gathering for the Conservative Political Action Conference.

But while they’re meeting at a convention center just outside of Washington, D.C., their minds — and rhetoric — are focused squarely on the White House and on attacking Hillary Clinton, the most likely Democratic nominee in 2016. Here’s every critical thing they said about her Thursday:

Carly Fiorina CPAC 2015
Conservatives rally against Hillary Clinton at CPAC
01:43 - Source: CNN

This year’s CPAC marks the unofficial kickoff of the battle for the conservative vote among GOP presidential contenders. For some, like Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the event will be a homecoming, a return to their most ardent and loyal supporters.

READ: Conservatives party like it’s 2016

For others, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, CPAC represents a lion’s den, full of activists skeptical of his conservative chops and wary of his presidential aspirations.

CPAC can put a potential contender on the map, as it did with retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson last year, when the movement launched to draft him into the presidential race drew significant attention and he took third in the presidential straw poll.

But it can also cripple a frontrunner, as it did when then-GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney called himself “severely conservative” at the 2012 convention.

What does CPAC look like? check out the video below:

cpac slug
CPAC: What is it?
01:14 - Source: CNN

Here’s what you need to know:


Bush survives CPAC grilling

Jeb Bush godfather CPAC mullery illustration

3 p.m. - Jeb Bush defended his positions on immigration – and made some breaks from hard-line conservatives – in front of a rowdy crowd Friday afternoon.

The former Florida governor went all-in on his support for a giving undocumented immigrants a path to legal status, and for making in-state college tuition available for those immigrants.

But he earned loud cheers from the crowd by saying he’d favor closing the U.S.-Mexico border first, before enacting any other immigration reforms, and for saying tens of thousands of Central American immigrants who arrived in Texas last summer should have been deported.

And he punted on a question about Congress’ ongoing fight over funding the Department of Homeland Security and whether Republicans should stick with a measure that also defunds President Barack Obama’s immigration actions – even at the risk of shutting the department down.

“I’m not an expert on the ways of Washington,” he said.

Bush’s comments came in a highly-anticipated question-and-answer session with Fox News host Sean Hannity.

Some members of the crowd walked out early in Bush’s appearance, and others interrupted him with jeers. But they were matched in volume by Bush’s supporters.

Hannity put Bush on defense for much of the 25-minute session, quizzing him on his stances on two issues that could hurt him with the GOP base: immigration and the Common Core education standards.

Bush used the education questions to tout his role as one of the nation’s leading conservative reformers, noting that Florida had launched the first statewide voucher program on his watch and offered a long list of choices that allow students and their parents to decide how to spend public education dollars.

He also told the crowd that Republicans need to pivot from their opposition to Obama – who he called a “failed president” – to a more positive agenda in 2016.

“It’s good to oppose the bad things, but we need to start being for things,” Bush said.

The same, he said, goes for him – the candidate with a father and brother who were president.

“I have to show what’s in my heart. I have to show that I care about people, about their future,” Bush said. “It can’t be about the past.”

— Eric Bradner, CNN

Duck Dynasty star wings it on center stage

Willie Robertson CPAC mullery illustration

In between the seemingly endless parade of 2016 hopefuls – Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson had plenty of red meat to offer to CPAC’s conservative attendees, and advice to any potential Republican Candidates.

“Carry two things wherever you go in case you become president – your bible and your woman,”

The former A&E reality show was not shy in asserting his own unabashedly conservative beliefs.

“I am a god-loving, bible-believing, gun-toting, capitalist,” Robertson declared to the crowd.

Taking a decidedly spiritual tone, Robertson read mostly from religious texts and selected writing from George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, imploring conservatives to hold onto America’s religious roots.

“If you think I’m a little too religious for you, just listen to your founding fathers, the men that founded this country,” Robertson said, “then decide if I’m too religious for you.”

Robertson also lamented the decline of the American family, citing CDC data on rates of sexually transmitted diseases as evidence of the U.S.’s moral decline.

He also likened the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria to the rise of Hitler and Stalin before World War II, pointing to a lack of Christian values as a common strain in those two nations.

“I don’t see a dime’s worth of different in any of them,” Robertson said.

He closed with another nod to 2016.

“If we don’t have spiritual men making political decisions, you’re going to lose this country,” Robertson warned.

– Johnny Verhovek, CNN

Santorum: Presidency ‘not an entry level position’

Santorum CPAC illustration

1:15 p.m. Former Sen. Rick Santorum pitched his foreign policy experience at CPAC on Friday as he laid out the radical Islamist threat the United States faces.

“Commander in chief is not an entry level position. And the oval office is no place for on the job training, not in times like this,” said Santorum, who spent eight years on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Santorum had trouble building applause lines as a crowd of Sen. Rand Paul supporters filtered out of the room after Paul, a crowd favorite, left the stage.

But the crowd’s enthusiasm grew as Santorum shifted focus from economics and the need to “stand for the little guy” to the threat of radical Islam.

Santorum laid out his vision for a hawkish foreign policy, calling for a robust military and the need for the United States military to deploy 10,000 “boots on the ground” to defeat ISIS.

Jeremy Diamond, CNN

Rand, the doctor, pitches 2016 ‘healing’ message

rand paul cpac illustration

1 p.m. - Sen. Rand Paul while speaking to a friendly audience, stuck largely to his stump speech but also used his background as a physician to distinguish himself from the rest of the crowded field of potential presidential candidates.

“As a doctor, I will take it and make it my mission to heal the nation, reverse the course of Obamacare, and repeal every last bit of it,” he said, adding that Chief Justice John Robert’s decision was the “mistake of the century.”

The Kentucky Republican undoubtedly had the warmest reception from the young CPAC crowd, which has traditionally tilted in favor of the libertarian-leaning senator and previously his father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. The audience was the fullest yet in the massive ballroom, and chants of “President Paul” occasionally broke out.

Paul ticked through his views on privacy and the Bill of Rights and rallied the crowd to its feet with a healthy dish of red meat, reiterating that it’s time for Hillary Clinton to “permanently retire” and calling for term limits for members of Congress.

And while polls show momentum building towards a more aggressive U.S. response against ISIS, Paul tried to carefully walk the line of supporting a strong national defense while still holding onto his non-interventionist views.

“Without question we must defend ourselves,” he said. “I envision an America with a National Defense unparalleled, undefeatable, and unencumbered by nation building.”

Perry talks foreign policy, immigration