OXON HILL, Md.
Republicans vying for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 auditioned Thursday before some of the nation’s most ardent conservative leaders, calling for the party to unite behind a clear agenda and draw contrasts with Democrats.
The contestants ranged from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea-party champion, to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a favorite of the GOP establishment.
“If you want to lose elections, stand for nothing,” said Cruz, who referred as examples to the unsuccessful presidential bids of Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney. “When you don’t stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don’t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate.”
The annual Conservative Political Action Conference offered an early tryout of sorts for a half-dozen Republican officials eager to win over the GOP’s most passionate voters. At stake this year is the Senate majority, currently held by senators in President Barack Obama’s party. But for all, the midterm elections could serve as a springboard for the next presidential contest.
Republicans have much to mend before 2016, starting with a stark ideological divide between the party’s establishment and the super-conservatives who rose to power in the tea-party-fueled 2010 elections that delivered a Republican House majority. Fiscal crises, compromises and a war of words have separated the factions from the top down despite widespread agreement that Obama’s signature health care law should be overturned.
More than two years out from the election to succeed Obama, there’s no clear front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination. But Republicans interested in the job are filing across the CPAC stage at a hotel complex just down the Potomac River from Washington — bashing the media, criticizing Obama and making a case for being the candidate who can win the White House.
“Most people are realizing that it’s cool to be selecting the most conservative in the race, but there’s an additional caveat that needs to be added, and that’s who can win in the general election,” said American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas.
The conservative conference comes less than a year after the Republican National Committee released a comprehensive plan to broaden the GOP’s appeal after a disappointing 2012 election season.
Most of the speakers touched upon existing divisions within the GOP that threaten to derail their party’s plans. They offered varied perspectives on foreign policy, social issues and political strategy, but each insisted that the Republican Party’s future is bright.