Among “disruptive Republicans”: Red State 2013, day 1

How do “pro-life” and “conservative” fit together? They’re not quite synonymous. Here at Red State Gathering 2013, I am definitely in a conservative group. We’re hearing from some elected officials (Ted Cruz, Tim Scott, Bobby Jindal), as well as from some challengers who hope to take out less-conservative Republicans in upcoming elections. I came here to New Orleans to hear for myself where the right to life figures into these speeches. So far, it doesn’t. Fair enough; this isn’t a pro-life convention. It’s interesting nonetheless to note what these folks choose to talk about.

(Do any of my readers wonder why I haven’t spent time lately at gatherings of Democrats? Simple: if there’s any division among Democrats over Roe, abortion funding, and abortion regulation, I haven’t seen it.)

Before I ask a candidate anything, I like to listen to his or her stump speech. What does he mention without prompting? What’s left out? That’s as enlightening as anything that comes out in Q & A. Today, among eleven speakers, two themes shared top emphasis: how to get rid of Obamacare, and how to control an overreaching IRS. Good speakers, polished deliveries – and no one mentioned abortion, the HHS mandate, or wars on women. Well, one exception – the chaplain who said the opening prayer was blunt about calling to account all religious leaders who have been silent about abortion out of fear of losing tax-exempt status.

Fine, as far as that goes. As I said, this isn’t a pro-life convention. Still, I wonder how many of these “disruptive Republicans” (in the phrase of Red State’s organizer, Erick Erickson) are prepared to address these matters effectively once Dems go on the attack. Obamacare, IRS abuses, and immigration reform are flashy right now, and every candidate seems to have a position paper ready on those topics. The right to life? Not so much.

A few observations from the day:

  • Senator Ted Cruz was the star of the show, if the size of the press contingent that followed him around is any indication. Cruz was an underdog when he ran for Senate, and he likes to talk about that by way of encouraging fellow conservatives to stick to their guns, figuratively speaking. He wants to de-fund Obamacare, but he acknowledged bluntly that the votes aren’t there in the Senate to make that happen. Not yet, anyway. He exhorted the grassroots to put pressure on Senators.
  • Matt Bevin wants to take on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. Tall order, and he knows it. He wants no more debt ceiling increases (a popular stand here) and no amnesty for immigrants arriving illegally (ditto). He mentioned he was brought up in northern New Hampshire, but I didn’t get a chance to ask him in which town.
  • Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina was asked how he, an African-American, got so many votes from white voters: “I said please.”
  • Obamacare was rhetorically slapped around for eight solid hours today. I’m OK with that. The First Amendment violation inherent in the law is reason enough to ditch it, but I will gladly work alongside anyone who wants to repeal it for any reason.
  • There was exactly one mention of a re-definition of marriage. Candidate Larry Rhoden, who wants to be elected to the U.S. Senate from South Dakota, called re-definition “unacceptable.” One sentence, and then on to the next topic.
  • Two of the most impassioned speakers were people who aren’t running for anything. Jenny Beth Martin of Tea Party Patriots and Kevin Kookogey of Linchpins of Liberty had personal stories about IRS treatment of their respective groups. Scary stuff.
  • Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana was the day’s closing speaker, talking about educational choice. He has irritated some activists with his support for Common Core. When he was questioned sharply about that during Q & A, he stood firm. Rightly or wrongly, he thinks Common Core is fine as long as it’s accepted by a local school board and not imposed from Washington. (Not going there …) In his capacity as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he made a good pitch for Virginia candidate Ken Cuccinelli.

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