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NEW ORLEANS – Highlighting the final day of the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans – and prior to the announcement of the group’s presidential straw poll – were 2016 presidential prospect Sen. Tex Cruz of Texas along with 2012 candidates Herman Cain and former Sen. Rick Santorum, who haven’t ruled out another run for the Oval Office.
Cruz opened the Saturday session with a message aimed at energizing the party’s religious, conservative base.
“There is a crisis in America,” he began.
“But I’m not worried,” Cruz continued, “because in the United States, sovereignty rests with ‘We the People.’ We are winning because there is a grassroots movement rising in America that will turn the tide in our favor.”
Cruz received repeated applause for attacking the Obama administration on a score of issues ranging from Obamacare, to Common Core to the Second Amendment.
“In Texas, we define gun rights very simply – hit what you aim at,” he said, drawing laughter and applause. “So we sent a message to Harry Reid, letting him know we would filibuster any legislation he introduced that threatened to undermine the Second Amendment.”
Cruz pledged that Republicans in November would retake the U.S. Senate, defeat Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and retire Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
He attacked the Republican establishment leadership and consultant Karl Rove by asserting the party needs to stop listening to consultants in Washington. Every year, he said, they ask wealthy Republican donors to give them money so they can employ the same losing election tactics all over again.
“How do we win elections?” he asked rhetorically.
“You have to stand for something. And we are going to stand for the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We stand for liberty. We stand for the Bill of Rights, all of the Bill of Rights.”
In a session with reporters, Cruz insisted that “abandoning Republican principles to create a ‘big tent’ party won’t work.”
Instead, Cruz urged the party to attract young voters who have become disillusioned by the jobless Obama economy and realizing Obamacare is a “massive income redistribution” from the youth to older Americans to pay for health insurance.
“As Republicans, we need to convince young voters that there is a better way,” Cruz said. “We can’t win elections by being Democrat-lite. We need to draw a line like Ronald Reagan did and make it clear we believe big government is the problem not the solution.
Herman Cain, the business executive, author and radio host who briefly led Obama in the polls in the fall of 2011, said “a lot of liberals thought the got rid of me in 2012 when I dropped out of the presidential election.”
“I have news for you. I’m back!” Cain said, drawing a standing ovation.
“I’m still involved. I’m not going away. And the liberals and the mainstream media are not going to shut me up.”
Answering the question of whether he will run for president again, Cain answered: “I do not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future. And I trust in God.”
He said there as some people “who want you to believe there are no black Republicans out there.”
“What am I? Chopped liver?”
Cain elaborated on the theme that America is “a nation that defeats nightmares and restores dreams.”
He suggested the scandal-plagued six years of the Obama administration have been a political and economic nightmare for millions of Americans.
“Some of us who watch what goes on in Washington, D.C., feel like we’re living in a nightmare,” he said.
“For those who cannot find a job, it is a perpetual nightmare because of this sluggish economy. America is looking for leadership, because there is none in Washington, and six years ago millions of America who voted for Barack Obama were fooled again.”
Cain said the biggest barrier to the American dream is lies and deceptions.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to have truth in government again?” Cain asked. “The only way we are going to do that is to elect people who know how to tell the truth. Right now, one of our biggest barriers is called ‘Democrats in the White House.’”
Cain said the nation must focus on the “3 R’s”: restructure, replace and rebuild; and the “3 I’s”: stay informed, involved and inspired.
“We have to restructure Social Security, the EPA and the Veterans Administration and the tax code. We have to replace the tax code, the ‘Unaffordable Care Act’ and Harry Reid. We have to rebuild the military and the space program.”
He paired this with the warning: “When you hear a candidate say ‘reform, repair or revisit,’ don’t vote for them.”
He told the audience the Republican Party needs the conservative grassroots to be involved in politics.
“The stupid people are outvoting us,” he said, drawing laughter and applause.
“And to make it worse, 3 million Republicans voted for Obama by staying at home. Politics is no longer a spectator sport. You have to be in the arena if you want to win.”
‘It’s time to fight!’
Santorum urged Republicans not to compromise.
“There are some who say that in order to win, we have to compromise on our conservative values,” he said. “But if we give up what we know works, are we really winning? If we give up what we know works, how can America win?”
He went on to charge that many in the Democratic Party are so far to the left that “they no longer believe in the principles upon which our Founding Fathers created this nation.”
Echoing themes advanced by Cruz and Cain, Santorum also argued the Republican Party will win elections if they stick to conservative principles, even if those values are out of favor with the party establishment and their consultants in Washington.
Elaborating on conservative themes, Santorum said: “I believe in an economy that redistributes wealth. Notice I did not say ‘a government that redistributes wealth.’ Why can’t we revive the theme, ‘Made in America'”?
Santorum said economic prosperity depends on cutting taxes, eliminating government regulations and producing abundant, low-cost energy.
Santorum referenced his recent book, “Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works,” as he painted a picture of a conservative middle class ready to go back to work all across the nation and re-brand the Republic Party.
“Why doesn’t the Republican Party stand up and support the family?” he asked, urging Republicans to “reclaim marriage” as a central theme of a re-branded GOP.
“All the Democratic Party programs aimed at helping women have ended up trapping them,” he insisted. “We trap women as unmarried and unable to rise through work because they are afraid of losing their government benefits. The policies of the Democratic Party discourage marriage and limit the earnings women can achieve.”
He presented a hopeful view of a revitalized American economy.
“Fracking is creating jobs in areas where the values of America are still strong, not in the cities the Democrats control.”
Santorum argued for a revival of economic populism, insisting the Republican Party must become once again the party of economic opportunity and hope.
“I know we like beating up on the president, and it seems to be getting easier all the time,” he said. “But that isn’t enough and it won’t win elections.”
He ended his speech by developing his vision of what a revitalized Republican Party looks like.
“We do not need to walk away from any of the principles in which we believe. We are the party that believes in the dignity of every person. We need to embrace our principles. Studies show the best predictor of whether or not a person is going to succeed is family structure. Republicans need to embrace marriage.”
Santorum urged the grassroots attendees to take action.
“We tend to give up even before we lose. But that’s the wrong approach. It’s time to fight.”
He contrasted this to liberal Democrats.
“Do you realize the most popular high school text book in America was written by a Marxist?” he asked. “It was. It is a history of America written by Howard Zinn, a Marxist who hated this country and what we stand for.
“We are losing for one reason only, the Democrats want to win more, and they are willing to make sacrifices we won’t make. The left files lawsuits. The left doesn’t care. They lose a battle and they don’t give up.”
Santorum ended on the theme that the conservative Republicans base must get involved if the Republican Party is to be revitalize.
“What should we do?” he asked.
“Just do something? Get involved. Start with the family and make it work. Then participate in your church. Move on to the schools. But the important thing is to do something.”
The conference concluded with the announcement of results from the group’s annual presidential straw poll.
Cruz finished in first place at 30.33%. Dr. Ben Carson finished in second with 29.38%, while Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, was third with 10.43%.
Fox News host and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Texas Governor Rick Perry rounded out the top five, at 5.06% and 4.90%, respectively.