Live from the FRC’s Washington Briefing

Greetings from the Family Research Council’s Washington Briefing — the “premier values voter event of 2007” !
Whoah. To quote Admiral Stockdale — “Why I am I here?”
Well, because I was invited, despite being a vaguely RINO-like libertarian type. And because it’s an opportunity to get up close and personal with the true social conservatives of the party while they in turn check out the GOP presidential candidates — all of whom are scheduled to speak this weekend.
Obligatory disclosure: the FRC folks paid for my flight for the trip, and for my hotel. If you feel that hopelessly taints my famed blogger independence, well, whatever.
So let’s get moving. As of this moment, three candidates have already taken the stage — McCain, Brownback, and Tancredo — so I’m playing catchup.
First, McCain. He gave a solid, but fairly low-key speech that focused more on the war — and his time in Vietnam — than on social issues. He opened with a clear message that he wouldn’t apologize for any issues where he has differed with social conservatives: ““I’m not gonna con you…I’m going to tell you what I believe, and let the chips fall where they may.”
He highlighted his opposition to the administration’s interrogation policies: “The easy way is not the American way we must remain true to our ideals not in spite of the threats we face but because of them.” And made a point of reminding the crowd of his involvement in the “Gang of 14”, declaring “I am proud to have played a role — -a major role — in the confirmation of Alito, Roberts, and others.” and concluding “I would appoint strict constructionist judges that won’t legislate from the bench.” (waitaminute — I thought Giuliani was tomorrow…?)
It was a good speech, but not great delivery. To me it was fairly obvious that it wasn’t one he had written himself or even had time to review closely prior to delivery — he recited it staring down at the text for the majority of his time, and his timing was off — he didn’t seem to have a grip on his own applause lines.
That said, he was greeted (to my surprise) with a standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech. Whether that was respect for his service, agreement with his positions, or simply the FRC crowd being cheap dates for the first speaker of the day is hard to know.
Next up was Brownback. I faced a choice between getting more coffee and listening to Brownback, and guess which won? Yeah. If it makes you feel any better, it’s not very good coffee.
I interviewed Brownback at CPAC back in March, and had a dim view of his Iraq policy then which hasn’t improved since. (How is that partition plan working out, Senator?)
But I have to say, the latter half of his speech which I caught went over well with the crowd. Brownback was clearly in his element, expounding on faith and its role in American life. Frankly, he was far more energized and comfortable than when I and Ed Morrisey spoke with him privately at CPAC. But hey, Ed and I are intimidating guys, so I guess that’s understandable. We scare lots of folks.
At closing, Brownback also got a standing ovation from the crowd. This one seemed a bit more heartfelt than McCain’s, although perhaps that’s just my own expectations showing through. (I don’t have a decibel meter handy, so can’t give you Truly Objective Data to prove who got the loudest applause).
Finally, for now, we had Tom Tancredo. Yes, he’s still running ! He opened with a self-deprecating story about being the only GOP candidate to show up at the NAACP summit, and went on a roll from there. He managed to avoid talking only about immigration (refreshing), although he did get to it eventually. And believe it or not, he clearly received the best reception of any of the three thus far. He was thundering from the podium, and receiving continuous bursts of applause and cheers.
Damn shame (for folks in this room) that he hasn’t a chance in hell of winning the nomination, let alone the general. But hey, he seems like he’s having a good time, so let him have his fun.
Next up: Fred !
My Fred! coverage will be especially worth watching, as I’m positioned one row behind Fred!’s blog guy, Jon Henke. So I’ll be sure to peer over his shoulder and report any incriminating internal notes (“Damnit, I told Fred to put some life in it — Jon”) that I happen to see. Stay tuned!
Update 11:20 am: It’s Fred!
First thought on Fred: damn, he really is tall. Dude towers over the podium.
Second thought on Fred: in however many years as an actor and eight years in the Senate, why hasn’t he learned how to deliver a speech without saying “uhhhh” every sentence or two? Geez, my public speaking delivery is better than his, and mine ain’t that good.
Spoke of the Founders and their faith – they knew “our basic rights come from God” — good applause from the crowd.
Jarring anachronistic note: says Founders knew that “not all solutions to all problems emanate from Washington D.C.” . Er, I’m sure they did. Particularly George Washington!
I dunno. With Fred!, I’m just not feeling the exclamation point. Maybe I’m just being too picky about all those darned “uhh’s”, but I don’t think so — he clearly didn’t get nearly as much applause as Tancredo or Brownback. Maybe not even McCain, although I think McCain got a pass as he was first and everyone was jazzed to applaud just to applaud for something.
There’s absolutely no reason why this should be, far as I can tell. Thompson was, at one point, supposed to be the Great Hope for social conservatives. You wouldn’t know it from the reception he’s gotten thus far.
He had one great line in his closing. Describing what he would do in his first hour as President, he said: “I would go in the Oval Office and close the door, and pray for the wisdom to know what was right.” — that brought the crowd to its feet with applause.
And like all three previous candidates, Fred! received a standing ovation at the end of his speech. Note to the FRC attendees: if you give one to everyone, it kinda diminishes the impact. (Unless, of course, the plan is to give one to everyone except a certain former Mayor, which would be amusing, if cruel).
It’s lunch and panels for the next few hours — and no, I’m not planning on covering much other than the Presidential candidates, thankyouverymuch. Ron Paul speaks in a few hours, though, so I’ll check back in for the freak show then…
Update 2:00 pm: Duncan Hunter takes the stage, and wins the award for Fastest Attempt To Claim The Reagan Mantle, invoking his connection with the Gipper and declaring of his work with him that “we brought down the Berlin wall. We freed hundreds of millions of people.”
Well okay then. I have to say: I’m getting slightly bored with the good Congressman. In the past five weeks, I’ve seen him at three different events. And I don’t get out much.
Hunter refers to “what I call the arsenal of democracy”. Wow. It takes a special guy to lift from both Reagan and FDR in the same speech.
Hunter’s a good sort, and I can’t say I really disagree with him on all that much, so I shouldn’t be so snarky. But he’s got no chance of getting the nomination, so it’s probably about time for him to get back to being a Congressman for California and stop playing at being a Presidential candidate.
Hunter’s reception was good, as was his delivery. I’d call it as better than McCain and Thompson, more in the zone of Tancredo and Brownback’s reaction from the crowd.
Now, for the big event ! The candidate we’ve all been waiting for; the man I like to refer to as an angry, isolationist Jimminy Cricket: Ron Paul !
First, let’s get something out of the way so we’re all on the same page on how I feel about Congressman Paul, m’kay?
This would be the International ANSWER anti-war rally in D.C. back in September:

And this would be the nice Ron Paul crazies who joined with their Socialist brothers at the protest:

Got it? Good. Keep that in mind when you hear Dr. Paul or his minions rattling on about how capitalism and the free market are the key to all things good and great.
Ah, it warms my heart to hear the lukewarm, scattered and weak little pockets of applause while the good Dr. Paul declares his opposition for the Iraq war. They liked his illegal immigration pitch, but he blew the deal when he said we need to bring our troops home and they should be on our border, not in Iraq. (cue sound of crickets chirping).
Gold Standard! Drink !
Now he’s talking about gun confiscation in New Orleans post-Katrina, and how dangerous big government and letting it have power can be. The reason I truly despise Ron Paul is not because I disagree with all his positions: it’s because I agree with the fundamental limited-government, libertarian ideals he espouses, but think that he takes them to nutjob extremes, thereby discrediting the entire message.

Update: Saturday Morning
And now the real (sorry, Ron) main event: Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani took the stage to a warm reception of applause, answering the immediate question of whether the FRC crowd might rudely snub him from moment one. Not so: definitely a courteous and even enthusiastic welcome.
He started with a discussion of Christianity itself, going all the way back to the early years of the faith and describing how believers were “spreading a message of love, of home, of faith… It was the love those early Christians displayed that drew first thousands and then millions to Christianity.”
“This is a religion of inclusion… they were truly defined by what they were for, not what they were against… I believe I can bring us together…”
He had so many great and well received lines, I’ll just go from my notes on his quotes:
“We may have big problems, but we have bigger solutions…I see a country that’s committed to restoring the social contract: for every right, there’s a duty, for every benefit, we have an obligation.”
“You’ll see a great deal of evidence of our shared view and shared values… I’m not going to pretend to you that I can be all things to all people…and you know that we have some areas of disagreement. But I believe we have many more areas of agreement.”
“I’ll always listen to your ideas… I come to you today as if I were your president, with an open mind and an open heart, and all I ask is that you do the same.”
Regarding those who think he is a champion of liberal ideals, he suggested they should “just read any New York Times editorial while I was Mayor of New York City.”
“I don’t easily publicly proclaim myself as the best example as faith… I grew up in an environment where faith was considered, if not private, at least separate from public life… but my belief in God and reliance on his guidance is at the core of who I am, I can assure you of that.”
“Isn’t it better that I tlel you what I really believe, instead of pretending to change all my positions to fit the prevailing winds? I believe trust is more important than 100% agreement.”
“What you’re entitled to from me is what I really believe… and then figure out if I’m the right person for you to support. ”
“Never let anyone tell you that your faith should not be part of your political values.”
“Our Constitution is not antagonistic to faith or religion or God.”
“There’s no exception in the first amendment that says we have the right of free speech, except for people of faith…freedom of religion is not freedom from religion.”
He spent a good amount of time on school choice, to strong applause. “It takes a family, not a village, to raise a child.”
And he hit abortion head on, going through what he would do to reduce the number of abortions:
“First, I will veto any reduction in the impact of the Hyde amendment. ”
“I will support any reasonable suggestion that promises to reduce the number of abortions. I support parental notifications and i will continue to and i support and will continue to support the ban on partial birth abortion.”
“I will reduce the red tape that makes adoption so difficult… I’ll make the… adoption tax credit permanent.”
(the remarkable thing is that even through this section of his his speech, Giuliani got strong applause on many lines, and no boos/negative reactions that I could hear)
“No set of decisions that a president makes will be more important than the judges that president appoints.”
He closed with what he said was the most important issue: that “we remain on offense in the terrorists’ war against the United States.”
“[Terrorists] did not attack us because of something wrong about us, they attacked us because of what is right about us.”
“Our goal in Iraq should be clear: Victory!”
He invoked Reagan’s view of the cold war — ‘they lose, we win.’
And made a strong declaration that Israel must be supported, stating that the Palestinians must do three things: first, accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Second, forsake terrorism and eliminate it. And third, they must begin to create a responsible government taking accountability for the problems of its people.
“Under no circumstances will we allow Iran to become a nuclear power.”
On Darfur: “Genocide in Africa is no different than genocide anyplace else. Never again must mean never again.”
“You and I know I’m not a perfect person… I feel my faith deeply. Although maybe more privately than some. And I believe we serve God best by serving others. At its heart, religion is about love, forgiveness; inclusion. It is about salvation. This is a transcendent message; a beautiful message. ”
“If we expect perfection from our political leaders, we’re just asking to be disappointed.”
“We may not always agree… I don’t always agree with myself” (laughter from the crowd.)
In closing: “I’ll continue to extend my hand to you, and I hope that’ll take it. May God bless all of us and may God continue to bless our great nation, the United States of America.”
And yes indeed, Giuliani received a standing ovation (like every other candidate to speak thus far). No sign at all of any negative reaction, and his standing O seemed to be a genuinely enthusiastic one.
OK, my reaction. I think this was a truly great speech: nearly pitch-perfect for the audience and about as well received as could possibly be hoped for by the Giuliani camp. I’m about ready to declare it “brilliant”, in fact. Given how potentially hostile this audience might have been, the fact that he received positive applause throughout his delivery that seemed honestly enthusiastic is truly remarkable.
Besides that, the substance was great. It was probably the best-written speech I’ve heard this weekend, full of great phrases that hit just the right notes.
More thoughts later, but I think you’ll be hearing a lot of reports that Giuliani hit this one out of the park. He won’t win the straw poll here, and certainly isn’t going to be the first choice of many people in this room. But I think he did everything he possibly could to convince these folks that he wouldn’t be as bad an option as they might have feared.
P.S.: Jim, I’m not sure if they used it as his entrance music — don’t think so— but yes, that was definitely U2’s “Angel of Harlem” playing as he left the stage. Now I’ve got it going through my head — which isn’t too bad; great tune!
So you thought Rudy blew away the FRC crowd? Wow! No, I didn’t say that. When I say he hit a “home run”, I meant that given realistic expectations, he did a great job. If I were Rudy and I delivered that speech, I’d be pretty happy with myself.
Why no Romney coverage? Because due to various circumstances, I didn’t actually watch his speech from the ballroom, but viewed it over the web. I thought it was definitely good — the word “solid” comes to mind — but didn’t seem to blow the crowd away. Beyond that, since I wasn’t physically there, I’ll leave it to others to judge the governor’s performance and reception.
And what about Huckabee? I’m still miffed at him about all the Billy Jack abuse he gave me. But as you’ll hear elsewhere: he gave a barnstormer of a speech, and I’d say probably got the most postiive reception of any of the candidates. I believe the quote from his speech was “I don’t come to you — I come from you” — and it showed.
Wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he won the Straw Poll today. If he doesn’t at least come in second, that’s a huge sign that the FRC crowd is starting to get in a rather pragmatic mood and is discounting candidates like Huckabee who are “their people” but who are regarded as second-tier players in the primary race.
Anyway, any candidate that will mercilessly mock an interviewer is OK in my book (even if the interviewer was me). But as for Huckabee’s policies… well, let’s just talk about Billy Jack some more instead…
Final Update 3pm: And now it’s time to play — who can type the Straw Poll results fastest !
They’re about to announce ’em, so here we go:
In descending order of total votes received (i.e., winner first):
WINNER: Romney
#2: Huckabee
#3: Ron Paul
#4: Thompson
See also:
Erick Erickson at RedState

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