NEW ORLEANS – Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson kicked off the Republican Leadership Conference at the Hilton Riverside Hotel in New Orleans on Thursday with an entertaining speech in which he mixed his faith in Jesus Christ with an admonition to the GOP to return to the Bible and the fundamental principles of freedom upon which the nation was founded.
"You lose your religion, you lose your morality, you lose your freedom," Robertson said. "You cannot be right for America if you are not right with God."
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In an event the GOP billed as an "unofficial kickoff" of the 2016 presidential campaign, Robertson drew repeated applause and more than one standing ovation by insisting, "If the country does not turn to God at a fairly rapid clip, we are going to lose the United States of America."
Robertson jokingly suggested, "The GOP must be desperate to call a person like me."
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Glancing down at the outfit that is now linked with his Duck Dynasty television persona, Robertson quipped, "These clothes are the best I own."
What Robertson did not hesitate to speak about was his strong faith in Jesus Christ.
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"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians. Where there is no Jesus, the love rate is always real low and the crime rate is always real high. It's just that simple GOP. You want to turn the Republican Party around, get godly."
He rejected the secular society created by Supreme Court decisions he interpreted as an attack on religion.
"We threw God out of the schools. We threw God out of the courthouses," Robertson said, in a speech that featured quotes from several Founding Fathers, including George Washington, John Adams and James Madison.
"Separation of church and state? I'm telling you right [now] what our Founding Fathers said and it doesn't sound like separating God Almighty from the United States of America. It's a lie. You remove the Bible out of schools, it was said more 200 years ago, and you are going to be wasting so much time punishing criminals. Education is useless without the Bible. Take the Bible out of schools and there's going to be an explosion of crime."
Robertson subtly rebutted charges of prejudice, making it clear comments he made to GQ magazine regarding homosexuality derived solely from his religions convictions.
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"There is only one race on this planet and that is the human race," he insisted.
"Look at all humanity as the human race. Therefore, you do not have the right to color code anybody. We are all one family and we are all made in the image of God Almighty. The color of your skin does not determine the character of your person. In the GOP we have the libertarians, and the conservatives and the establishment party, but you need to get off all of this divisive talk and be one party united."
Commenting that one "can tell a lot about a man when you hear him pray," Robertson recalled George Washington praying at the founding of the nation.
He then transitioned to discussing Barack Obama.
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"I watch what I see coming out of the White House and it is downright embarrassing. How many lies are we going to tolerate? Our Founding Fathers created the greatest republic on the face of the earth and we screwed it up in 238 years. But I'm not throwing in the towel yet on it. As was said, the surest way for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
Robertson railed against abortion, asking the GOP audience how a nation that kills its unborn children thinks it can survive.
"The strength of this nation is not the Constitution," he insisted, "but the law of God and the Ten Commandments upon which the Constitution was founded."
Sarah Palin makes a surprise appearance
Before Robertson took the podium, introducing him became a competition between Louisiana's Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and Alaska's former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, who made a surprise, unannounced appearance specifically to make the introduction.
Jindal began his introduction by speaking strongly in favor of religious freedom, asking the audience in jest whether everyone enjoyed Obama saying at the National Prayer Breakfast, "If you like your religion, you can keep your religion."
Palin, in her introduction, commented on Obama's speech this week at West Point and drew strong applause.
"Soon our soldiers may have to exchange their fatigues for mom jeans," she said.
Palin made a point of praising veterans as the Obama administration struggles amid a growing Department of Veterans Affairs scandal.
"Unfortunately, the Obama doctrine dismisses the price our veterans have paid for our freedom," said Palin, who inspired conservatives as the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate.
"Perhaps what our president doesn't understand today is freedom isn't free. If you love freedom, you thank a vet."
Jindal defends individual liberty
"If we really believe in an American dream that says our best days are ahead of us and that the next generation should have a greater opportunity ahead of them, then we must pass school reform," Jindal insisted.
"In Louisiana, we have passed a law that says there must be a great teacher in every classroom," he said.
"If we really believe in great teachers, why don't we pay them on how well they do in the classroom rather than paying them based on how long they have been breathing in the classroom," he said.
"We believe in Louisiana the dollars should follow the child rather than making the child follow the dollars," the governor said.
"I'm here to tell you that parents are the first and best educators, and we need to trust parents in determining where their children are best put to school. I believe parents, not government, know best whether their kids should be in charter schools, parochial schools or public schools."
Jindal took a strong stance against Common Core, the controversial federal program establishing national standards in public schools.
"I'm all for standards, I'm all for making sure our kids learn and compete," he said, "but there is something fundamentally wrong when the federal government thinks they know better than we do as parents what's best for our kids."
He took exception to Obama characterizing conservatives as people who cling to their guns and their religion.
"In Louisiana, we have plenty of guns and a lot of religion," he said to strong applause.
"It's hypocritical for the progressives to think they know what's best for us, for President Obama to insist we have to send our kinds to public schools with Common Core when he would never send his kids to those same schools."
He targeted the Obama administration's insistence that Hobby Lobby must comply with Obamacare requirements regarding contraception and abortion benefits.
"I'm not sure what Harvard Law School taught Barack Obama," he said, "but he might want to ask for his tuition money to be refunded."
Jindal again drew strong applause when he insisted, "America did not create religious freedom, religious freedom created America."
In a session with reporters, Jindal affirmed that he was thinking about launching a presidential run in 2016.
"Yes, I'm thinking about it," he told the reporters. "I'm praying on it and so is my family."
Priebus promises a competitive RNC in 2016
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Party, declared war on the Democrats and their plans to rig the mechanics of presidential elections every four years.
"We can't be a national party that shows up every four years before a presidential election to raise a ton of cash," Priebus said. "We have to build a national party that's obsessed with the mechanics of winning elections."
Priebus called for the audience to understand Republicans must challenge Democrats on the type of computer-driven voter intelligence systems Obama used to beat Mitt Romney in 2012.
"What do Democrats do?" Priebus asked. "They walk into a meeting like this and they say, 'We're going to identify and register 25,000 Democrats in Florida every month between now and 2016. It's going to cost millions and I want you to write a check."
Priebus charged that Democrats do not care who the candidate will be in 2016 or what the campaign message will be.
"But Democrats know that if they can register 25,000 Democrats in Florida every month between now and 2016, they will win," he said.
Priebus vowed to change the presidential primary system.
"Our primary system is a total disaster," he asserted. "The idea that we slice and dice ourselves for six months in Iowa is ridiculous."
Priebus wants to move the Republican National Convention nominating the president to June or July, instead of the August convention that nominated Romney, to take advantage of rules that restrict the party's presidential candidates from spending federal campaign funds until formally nominated.
Priebus also pledged to break the Democrats' hold on presidential televised debates.
"This idea of holding 23 debates in a traveling circus is done," he pledged, "and this time around we are going to pick the moderators."
He urged Republicans to return to the principles that made the GOP great.
"We're the party of freedom and we're the party of opportunity," Priebus told the group.
"We're in a battle for freedom in this country. It's the same battle that started this country. It's the same battle that James Madison affirmed in the Bill of Rights. It's the same battle that started this party."
The move to defeat Mary Landrieu
The RLC meeting, the last, big conservative political event before the mid-term elections kick into high gear, also aimed to encourage Louisiana Republican voters to play a major role in capturing a Senate majority in November by defeating Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who is expected to face a tough re-election bid defending Obamacare and Obama's reluctance to push approval for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Three Republicans hoping to contest Landrieu for the Louisiana Senate seat spoke to the RLC on opening night: Louisiana state Rep. Paul Hollis; U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, representing Baton Rouge in the U.S. House; and Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel.
Appearing before the RLC in one of the introductory speeches, Hollis hammered Landrieu over Obamacare, promising, "If you elect me in November, I will work to get America on the right path again."
The opening program featured a panel on free speech that argued conservatives must continue to file court challenges to prevent Democrats from setting election rules to favor progressives benefited by a largely supportive mainstream media and the ability of labor unions to apply member union dues to support Democratic Party candidates.
The panel included:
- Shaun McCutcheon, an electrical engineer from Alabama, who brought forward the case that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling McCutcheon v. FEC, in which the Supreme Court struck down the overall limit on how much money individuals can spend in one election cycle, while leaving in place contribution limits on individual campaigns.
- David Bossie, president of Citizens United, who was responsible for the landmark case Citizens United v. FEC, in which the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibits government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations, associations.
- Hans von Spakovsky, a former FEC commissioner and co-author of a new book about the Eric Holder Justice Department, called "Obama's Enforcer - the Eric Holder Justice Department."
Bossie announced that Citizens United will soon file a legal challenge to Democrats who are pressing for tax-deferred organizations to be forced to reveal their donors. Bossie claimed the measure is aimed at restricting the ability of conservatives to challenge advantages Democrats currently enjoy in electoral politics.