My Fellow Conservatives,
Welcome to the 40th anniversary of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the largest, oldest and most exciting conservative event in America.
This year’s conference promises to be the very best ever, in part thanks to the great speakers and panels that you will hear from. But also in part because of you — the largest and most committed group of registrants, exhibitors, sponsors and supporters.
The theme of this year’s conference is: “America’s Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives — New Challenges. Timeless Principles.”
In honor of this theme, we will welcome more young leaders than ever before to the CPAC stage during the next three days. Most of our emcees this year are under 35 years of age, and we have an incredible lineup of 10 young conservative leaders, all of whom serve as elected leaders at the highest levels of their state governments. They will no doubt inspire us with their experiences, battling for conservative values on the front lines.
Over the last 40 years we have ensured that our young students and activists have had a seat at CPAC and can get the training and inspiration they need to defeat the liberal agenda. I even hear that we have over 250 students who came on buses all the way from Ohio and Michigan.
To all those who are under 25 and here on a “Young Conservative” ticket, we welcome and thank you. You are our next generation of conservative leaders.
Forty years ago President Ronald Reagan – then California Gov. Ronald Reagan – stood on the first CPAC stage. Only 125 people were there, and look at what CPAC has grown into today. We will honor some of our patriots who were at that very first gathering and are here at this conference with us.
You see, CPAC was President Reagan’s favorite conference — he considered us family. He gave more than 12 speeches at CPAC conferences from 1974 to 1988 – including his first major speech after becoming president. We have kept these speeches, and I read them from time to time. As the saying goes, they are priceless but also timeless.
Even though more than three decades have passed since his campaign for the White House, and this June marks the ninth anniversary of his death at age 93, his inspiring words still ring true today.
In 2012 conservatives suffered unexpected and disappointing loses. It still hurts me and I am sure you. But let’s recall what President Reagan said at CPAC in 1975, right after the GOP’s devastating losses of 1974, which were far worse than last fall.
Reagan rejected calls to broaden the base of our party, because he stated: “What they meant was to fuzz up and blur even more the difference between ourselves and our opponents.” Reagan then argued that a political party cannot be all things to all people, and that it must represent certain fundamental beliefs. We call these the Core beliefs of American Exceptionalism.
Reagan said that we are here to tell the Republican Party that Conservatives believe the expansion of the tent means the persuasion of others to join our pursuit of freedom from an asphyxiating government, not the dilution of the principles which Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and our ACU founder William F. Buckley believed in. “If there are those in the Republican Party who cannot subscribe to these principles, let them go their way.”
Reagan later said that he could not agree with some of his friends – perhaps including folks right then and there at CPAC in 1977 – who said that this nation needs a new political party.
So I, too, propose to my libertarian, social conservative, tea party and independent friends out there that we cannot succeed without sharing our collective conservative principles all as one. Failure to do so will ensure that this liberal nightmare which has descended in our nation will endure, until it is too late to win America back.
Following his historic presidential win, Reagan said in 1981 at CPAC:
“How many of us were there who used to go home from meetings like this with no thought of giving up, but still found ourselves in the dark of night wondering whether this much loved land may go the way of other great nations that lost a sense of mission and a passion for freedom?”
Let that Reagan victory in 1980 serve as our inspiration for all of us to keep fighting.
But, in order to turn this country around, three critical goals must be met:
1. The Republican Party needs to be a Conservative Party — with no apologies.
2. It must recruit candidates who are not only principled conservatives but articulate as well. If we don’t have candidates who can communicate these principles, we are going to lose election after election.
3. We must embrace the changing demographics of America — not by diluting our principles, but by reaching out to all Americans.
The American Way should be almost as predictable as the laws of physics. The American Way understands that the laws of God should not be breached by the laws of Washington. The American Way preserves our individual rights to not be invaded by drones at home, unlawfully searched at airports and deprived of our rights to defend ourselves.
The American Way expects the rule of law to be respected by our president: That the laws of the country cannot be ignored by executive fiat, whether the subject matter is immigration, defense of marriage or recess appointments.
The American Way means that we don’t take hard-earned money from your family’s pocket to provide a better standard of living to those who are not willing to work. The American Way is about our dignity, self-respect and self-reliance, not dependence on big brother to assume our responsibilities as parents, providers or citizens.
In Reagan’s moving farewell address in 1989, he referenced his last version of that “Shining City on a Hill.”
He said, “It was a tall proud city, built on rocks stronger than the oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace — a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there has to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
Today, our 40th CPAC anniversary is dedicated to Ronald Reagan, as we present to you our own version of that Shining City on a Hill and the path to get there.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Welcome to CPAC! God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.
Al Cardenas is chairman of the American Conservative Union and a former two-time chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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