- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2011

Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday gave more than 2,000 cheering conservative activists a helping of Texas-style wit and political red meat, making fun of liberalism’s excesses while still pronouncing America’s future bright.

On the middle day of the 38th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) gathering in Washington, the Republican governor’s optimistic view contrasted with the darker one billionaire developer Donald Trump offered the equally appreciative audience the day before, when he claimed the world is laughing at the Obama administration’s defeatist foreign policy and its timid approach to the foreign oil cartel.

Emphasizing his Texas drawl and at times gesturing in ways reminiscent his predecessor as governor, former President George W. Bush, Mr. Perry gave one of the liveliest and best received speeches, many CPAC activists said.

It was a day filled with potential 2012 Republican presidential nomination candidates, and the pointed comments from the podium pumped some optimism into many activists who had come to annual conservative gathering grumbling that the GOP presidential field for next year was weak.

Earlier on Friday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty showed off new and improved speech deliveries that rocked the packed Marriott Wardman Park Hotel ballroom.

“President Obama has succeeded in doing the impossible,” Mr. Pawlenty said. “He’s proven that somebody can deserve a Nobel Prize less than Al Gore” — a line that drew one of the biggest responses of the day.

Mr. Romney, far less stiff and distant than in past years, kept his audience laughing, at one point saying that Mr. Obama’s “response to the economic crisis was, ‘It could have been worse.’ “

Mr. Romney, perhaps anticipating that as the economy will come to the fore as the campaign unfolds, delivered a speech heavy on foreign policy and criticisms of Mr. Obama’s diplomatic approach.

“The president who had touted his personal experience as giving him special insight into foreign affairs was caught unprepared when Iranian citizens rose up against oppression,” he said.

“His proposed policy of engagement with Iran and North Korea won him the Nobel Peace Prize,” he said. “How’d that work out, by the way? I mean, Iran is arming Hezbollah and Hamas and is rushing toward nuclear armament. North Korea fired missiles, tested nukes, sunk a ship and shelled a South Korean island. …The cause of liberty cannot endure much more of his ‘they get, we give’ diplomacy.”

Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul, not considered a magnetic speaker, also gave a livelier than usual address, one that was chock full of substance on fiscal and foreign policy.

Many veteran activists joined Mr. Paul’s legion of young CPAC enthusiasts in stomping, hooting their approval for his no-punches-pulled assessment of his own party’s role in the nation’s economic foreign policy difficulties.

“We don’t need to just change political parties. We need to change our philosophy,” Mr. Paul said.

Terry Strine of Wilmington, Del., a CPAC regular, shook his head in surprise after Mr. Paul spoke, saying, “This guy Paul thinks out of the box — and it’s refreshing.”

Another libertarian-minded Republican, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, also managed to get a warm reception from an audience that knows its politics and sometimes judges its politicians sternly.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, also weighing a possible presidential run, gave a polished speech that failed at times to ignite the audience, while Herman Cain, the retired corporate manager who had turned around several dying businesses, gave a deep-voiced, preacher-like lecture on the way the U.S. government conducts its business.