02.18.10

Live from Right-Wing Central

The Daily Beast’s John Avlon and Benjamin Sarlin go behind the scenes at the annual Conservative Political Action Committee conference. Below, read their reports on Tim Pawlenty’s Tiger Woods-inspired remarks, Dick Cheney’s appearance, Scott Brown’s kind words about Mitt Romney, Romney’s defense of George W. Bush, and more. Plus, watch Pawlenty and Cheney.

The Daily Beast’s John Avlon—author of Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America, available from Beast Books—and Benjamin Sarlin go behind the scenes at the annual Conservative Political Action Committee conference. Below, read their reports on Tim Pawlenty’s Tiger Woods-inspired remarks, Dick Cheney’s appearance, Scott Brown’s kind words about Mitt Romney, Romney’s defense of George W. Bush, and more. Plus, watch Pawlenty and Cheney.

Ron Paul Steals Romney's Thunder in Straw Poll

Ron Paul is the big winner of the CPAC straw poll, an unscientific but well-reported popularity contest, ending three years of victories for Mitt Romney. The Texas congressman nabbed 31 percent of the vote, versus 22 percent for Romney, 7 percent for Sarah Palin, 6 percent for Tim Pawlenty, 5 percent for Mike Pence, 4 percent each for Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee, and 2 percent for Rick Santorum and John Thune.

The results are not entirely surprising despite Paul's limited appeal within the broader conservative movement—Paul-affiliated groups, such Campaign for Liberty, were all over the place at CPAC, with dozens of young volunteers manning tables in exhibit halls, organizing panel discussions, and, apparently, voting in straw polls. His own speech at CPAC was one of the best-attended and most raucous events of the entire three-day conference, with attendees shouting his name along with chants of End the Fed, the title of Paul's latest book. According to CPAC's organizers, about half the participants were students, Paul's strongest base of supporters.

The win steals a bit of Romney's thunder after a strong first-day speech in which he was introduced with a surprise appearance by Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). But 2012 loomed less large over this CPAC, which was much more focused on the midterm elections and did not feature the full slate of likely contenders. President Obama had a robust 2 percent approval rating in the poll, with 98 percent disapproving.

Benjamin Sarlin

Congressman Thad McCotter Critiques Health Care Summit

I tracked down Rep. Thad McCotter (R-MI) at CPAC to get his take on President Obama's upcoming bipartisan health care summit. With Harry Reid and White House officials sending signals they'll soon have their own Democratic bill ready to pass through reconciliation—requiring no GOP votes—McCotter said the summit would likely be a waste of time.

"As the president continues to talk about how he has his bill and the Senate continues to talk about reconciliation, it becomes increasingly less likely to be a true engagement," he said. "So I think they have to make that determination, otherwise it will just turn into a session of everyone on TV looking at each other, smiling and pointing fingers, they'll walk away without much accomplished, a whole lot of people wondering what it was all about."

Benjamin Sarlin

Gay Rights Divide CPAC Conference

As the sun was setting on CPAC yesterday, the usual show of unity was disturbed with a bizarre anti-gay outburst by a Young Americans for Freedom leader from California named Ryan Sorba, who decided to use his podium time to condemn CPAC for accepting co-sponsorship from a gay conservative group called GOProud.

“I’d like to condemn CPAC for bringing GOProud to this event,” Sorba said. “Civil rights are grounded in natural rights, natural rights are grounded in human nature…the intelligible end of the reproductive act is reproduction. Civil rights, when they conflict with natural rights, are contrary.”

The conservative crowd then admirably turned on Sorba, booing and shouting him down, prompting Sorba to resort to tough guy poses ("Bring it…I love it”) and taunts (“The lesbians at Smith College protest better than you!”).

If Sorba’s rant sounded rehearsed, it followed many of the talking points offered by CPAC sponsor groups like The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, which offers pamphlets in the exhibition hall articulating “10 Reasons Why Homosexual ‘Marriage’ is Harmful and Must be Opposed” and a mini manifesto called “’To Keep Our Honor Clean’: Why We Must Oppose the Homosexual Agenda for the Military.” Top reasons include: “It Violates Natural Law,” “It Turns a Moral Wrong Into a Civil Right,” and “It Offends God.” Members of the organization wear red sashes and their table features a prominent medieval knight’s helmet. They are quick to cite a Magesterium of the Catholic Church which identifies homosexuality as “intrinsically evil.”

avlon-cpac-gay-politics

I went over to the GOProud table to interview Jimmy LeSalvia, the executive director of the organization. “We’ve had a great reception,” he said. “There was some controversy when it was announced that we were cosponsoring, and some folks like Jerry Falwell, Jr. threw a fit. But people one after another—including other cosponsors and conservative leaders like Grover Norquist—have come over and thanked us for being here. It’s been very heartening.”

GOPride members are quick to point out that Human Events conservative of the year, former VP Dick Cheney, agrees with them on Gay Rights, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and even Gay Marriage. Chris Barron, Chairman of the GOProud Board of Directors and backer of a Draft Cheney 2012 movement, took a calmly confident tone regarding their opponents inside CPAC. “They can hand out as much literature as they want and make it as inflammatory as they want,” said Barron. “The bottom line is that they know they’ve lost and we’re here. It’s over. It’s done. In 15 years this isn’t going to be an issue and they aren’t going to exist.”

John Avlon

Interview with Chuck Devore, Cali Senate Candidate

I caught up with Chuck Devore, a Republican candidate in California for Sen. Barbara Boxer's (D-CA) seat who's been attracting Tea Party support in his primary against Carly Fiorina and former representative Tom Campbell.

"If I beat Barbara Boxer, we will have taken over the Senate," Devore said.

I asked him about Fiorina's now-infamously odd " Demon Sheep" ad attacking Devore, which Fiorina's camp has claimed as a victory thanks to its 700,000 plus views on YouTube.

"So far as any publicity is good publicity, you could say that about a car wreck on the side of the freeway," Devore said. "People stop and look at it with this horrified feeling and I think a lot of people felt that about the demon sheep ad -- this kind of horrifically psychedelic video."

With Republican obstruction in the news, I asked Devore if he was concerned some of the larger scale ideas that GOP leaders were beginning to unveil – namely entitlement reform – might be difficult to carry out if Democrats use filibuster tactics against them. Devore, for his part, said he was loathe to tinker with Senate traditions.

"The reason why we have [the filibuster] in the senate is the Senate was designed by the founders from the start to be a body that was more sensitive to the minority interests and to slow things down, because I think the founders understood that precipitous action is not necessarily good action," he said. "Look at the Wall Street bailout, a bailout which both of my Republican opponents supported, [as did] Barbar Boxer. The bailout came about because people were panicking and said we had to do something."

He also cautioned that Republicans elected in 2010 may face slow going in enacting a fiscally conservative agenda.

"If you end up eventually with a president who can veto spending bills we may not be able to get a handle on the entitlement spending as quickly as we like, but certainly the discretionary spending can be easier to do without a 60 vote margin," he said. He cited Ronald Reagan's success in raising the retirement age for Social Security as a model for possible bipartisan achievement.

"That was done when we only had one house and that house wasn't at 60 votes," he said.

Benjamin Sarlin

book-cover---wingnuts
Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America. By John Avlon. 304 Pages. Beast Books. $15.95. ()

Michelle Bachmann and the Politics of Demonization

Michele Bachmann came onstage to the strains of “She’s a Lady” yesterday, and enthusiastic applause from the CPAC audience. She’s a charter member of the Limbaugh Brigade – the more extreme she is (as when she questioned whether Barack Obama harbored “anti-American views” in 2008) — the more beloved she becomes by the base. There is no such thing as too extreme in this world-view.

But the extreme ideas in Bachmann’s speech weren’t the one-liners about “Obama’s Thought Police,” or her assertion that FDR took “a manageable recession and turned it into a ten year recession.” Instead her extremism was expressed in a more subtle but pervasive theme I’ve heard throughout CPAC this year: a complete conflation of partisanship with patriotism.

Conservatives here believe they are the sole defenders of the Constitution, and therefore the only true American patriots. As Club for Growth President Chris Chocola stated before Bachman took the podium, “conservative values are American values.”

This line of logic leads to liberals being constantly characterized as un-American. And President Obama is therefore the anti-American in chief.

As Bachmann compared conservatives to the Americans who fought the Revolutionary War, Obama is cast as King George III and Democrats as a bunch of British Redcoats. This builds neatly on Mitt Romney’s new riff that liberals are “neo-monarchists.”

When she asserted that Americans “get to choose our destiny – whether its decline or greatness,” it went without saying that conservatives believed in America’s greatness while liberals were hell bent on America’s decline. When conservatives see themselves as defenders of liberty against oppression, Democrats are the enthusiastic oppressors.

And when Bachman compared conservatives to U.S. soldiers fighting Nazi tyranny, well, you get the idea.

This worldview leaves no room for great civic debate or civil disagreement. It is reduces everything to absolutes. It is the politics of demonization and it is in danger of pervading the conservative movement. Patriotism is much bigger than partisanship. No party should be so arrogant as to act like it owns freedom, let alone the Bible or the American flag.

John Avlon

Ron Paul’s History Lesson

Let the record state that Ron Paul is the real rock star at CPAC, the man whose popularity bridges the Tea Parties and movement conservatives. Mitt Romney couldn’t have purchased the raucous reception that the “End the Fed” Texas Libertarian received. What’s funny is what Ron Paul did with his moment at the podium.

He cursed out Woodrow Wilson.

Previous speakers had taken their obligatory shots at FDR–and truth be told much of the debates heard today at CPAC are echoes of conservative opposition to the New Deal. But it takes a special kind of man to rally a crowd with angry recounts of the Palmer Raids. He took a mean swipe at Warren G. Harding as well, proving that true libertarians are equal opportunity offenders. No matter what your politics, there is something heartening about a barnburner of a speech that combines an economic history lesson with angry “get off my lawn” delivery. So kudos of a kind to Ron Paul–he just might make “Woodrow Wilson Sucks” a stadium cheer. And a nation of frustrated professors will rejoice.

—John Avlon

Rep. Steve King Compares Dems to Genocidal Dictators

Iowa’s Steve King is a lesser known member of the congressional conservatives I call the Limbaugh Brigades—play-to-the-base polarizers who follow the talk radio model of dividing-to-conquer instead of any attempt at coalition building.

King might have first came to your attention in 2008, when the McCain campaign condemned him for saying that that if Obama was “elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al Qaeda, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11 because they will declare victory in this War on Terror.” After Joe Wilson screamed “You Lie” at President Obama, King called Wilson “an officer and a gentleman and a patriot.” “God bless him,” King said. “He said what we were thinking.”

Friday was more of the same. Steve King unleashed, preaching to the choir. He started out with some decent red meat lines—“the master mesmerizer has lost his mojo.” He threw the prospect of bipartisanship under the bus: “I don’t want to meet with the president of the United States to see what other kinds of toxic stew he’s going to try and serve to us.” He piled “the environmentalists and the extremists” into the same boat. And then he really descended into the swamp.

Congressman King said he wanted to “define our enemies”—and then equated “liberals and progressives” with “Che Guavarians, Castro-ans, Mao-ists, Stalinists and Marxists.”

The applause obscured the obvious—King had just compared Democrats not just to communist revolutionaries but also to genocidal dictators. That is disrespectful not just to Democrats but to the millions murdered at the hands of Mao and Stalin. Most of all, such a comparison is disrespectful to the United States itself. The fact that it passed without a gasp is a sign of how far degraded our civil discourse has become in politics—how we have become numb to the use of hate in pursuit of hyper-partisanship. It’s a reminder of the old adage that in a place where everybody thinks alike, nobody thinks very much.

John Avlon

Gov. Pawlenty: Let’s Use Elin’s ‘Playbook’

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty offered an interesting analogy in his CPAC speech Friday: Conservatives are like Elin Nordegren, Tiger Woods’ estranged wife.

"Now I think we can learn a lot from that situation," he said. "Not from Tiger, but from his wife. So she said I've had enough, she said no more. I think we should take a page out of her playbook and take a nine iron and smash the window out of big government in this country!"

It's not often you hear Republican leaders proudly identify with Scandinavians in general, given its countries' socialist leanings.

Benjamin Sarlin

Click Below to Watch Pawlenty’s Remarks About Tiger and Elin

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Pawlenty’s Pastels

While America tunes to Tiger Woods’ televised statement, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was just taking the stage at CPAC, and even he couldn’t resist acknowledging the awkwardness. His solution was to say conservatives should follow the lead of Woods’ wife and resist going with the flow as a matter of principle—to just say no. Somehow Jenny Sanford’s precedent was left unspoken.

Pawlenty was supposed to be John McCain’s favorite for a VP nominee before Hillary’s collapse compelled the selection of Sarah Palin. Now Pawlenty is considered a dark horse candidate for ’12, a blue collar, blue state conservative running on fiscal responsibility. In truth, he would have been a lukewarm substitute for the Thrilla from Wasilla—and his speech today is warmly received but essentially a sleeper. He’s hitting all the bases, faith and family and freedom, with generous sides of Sam’s Club anti-elitism. But at this point in the presidential candidate cavalcade, there is a color-by-numbers quality to most speeches and Pawlenty’s speech was all pastels.

John Avlon

Governors Bash Their Own States

A pair of high-profile blue-state Republican governors have made an interesting habit of bashing their own states in public. Mitt Romney made it a staple of his campaign speeches and ads in the 2008 election and with Scott Brown proudly touting his near-possible victory it seems to be more in style than ever.

"This is the land of United States Senator Al Franken," Gov. Pawlenty of Minnesota said in his CPAC speech. "49 out of 50 states voted for Ronald Reagan... Guess which one didn't: Minnesota."

He boasted that "in Minnesota, we've taken the spending curve down to zero for the first time in the 150 year history of my state" and that "if we can do it in Minnesota, probably one of the most liberal states in the country, we can do it anywhere."

Benjamin Sarlin

Eric Cantor Previews Health-Care Summit

Ahead of President Obama's health-care summit, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), a member of the GOP leadership, offered a preview of the Republicans' plan going in. And compromise didn't sound like it was on the agenda.

"I believe you will see us put forth our arguments, hand out an indictment of the Democrats' bill, and offer sensible free market based solutions in return that I believe will be well received by the American people," Cantor said.

Given that Cantor and other Republicans have declared a large portion of the Democrats' health-care plan—an individual mandate requiring people to buy health insurance—it seems unlikely any substantive deal is possible. Cantor repeated GOP criticisms of the bill.

"These bills are predicated upon backdoor dealing, these bills are predicated upon requiring the purchase of healthcare insurance that has a questionable constitutional origin, these bills are ultimately designed to lead this country to a single payer system, something the American people reject," Cantor said.

The House and Senate bill are ironically seen by many on the left supportive of single payer health care as an extreme compromise with political reality—under the Senate bill there would be no new government-run health plan whatsoever.

"We Republicans will go to the president and insist that he push the reset button and get serious about offering Americans a positive reform agenda," Cantor said.

He added that the Republicans would present their alternative, which involves allowing Americans to purchase health care across state lines and limiting awards in malpractice suits.

"If we reduce cost more people can have access,” he said. "If we fix the system that we have instead of expanding it to include Lord only knows how many uninsured they can come up with, those individuals who do not have insurance could finally afford insurance."

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Republican plan is much cheaper than the Democrats' plan, although the latter reduces the deficit over time, but is predicted to help 36 million less people secure health insurance by 2019

Cantor was also asked about the Republican plan for people with preexisting conditions, who often cannot find health insurance despite being most in need and who would benefit most directly from the Democrats' plan. Cantor said the Republicans "absolutely" would address the issue in their plan, which includes federal money for "high risk pools" in states. Cantor noted that by segregating sick people from healthy people in the insurance markets, premiums would not be increased for healthier consumers or require an individual mandate for health insurance. Critics have pointed out that premiums may still remain out of reach for those with pre-existing conditions however.

Benjamin Sarlin

Cheney’s Surprise Appearance

Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance at CPAC on Thursday, introduced by his daughter, Liz Cheney after her own speech. He received a thunderous burst of applause and cheering that lasted for some time before he could speak.

"Cheney 2012!" an audience member shouted.

"Knock it off," he said, quieting the crowd. "A welcome like that is almost enough to make me want to run for office."

The line was a retread from his speech in 2008, where he used an almost identical opener.

"I think Barack Obama is a one term president," he said.

His remarks were short, more a quick nod of encouragement.

"There are some great years ahead of us and it's very, very important that we succeed," Cheney said, adding that motivating younger conservatives was particularly crucial. "It's a remarkable time to be an American, a remarkable time to be a conservative. Good luck."

—Benjamin Sarlin

Click Below to Watch Cheney at CPAC

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Scott Brown Praises Romney, Romney Praises Bush

Mitt Romney's potential 2012 campaign has been touch and go this year, as his Massachusetts health-care plan has been a model for Congressional Democrats and populist rhetoric has overtaken the party's base, but he got a big boost with a surprise introduction by Scott Brown, the darling of the GOP and perhaps a crucial ally in any presidential run.

"If you want to fix something broke, especially dealing with economic policy, you have to listen to Governor Romney," he said. He credited Romney with being the "only one behind me, pushing me along, encouraging me to make a difference" in his early days in politics.

John Avlon: The CPAC’s Frightful SponsorRomney uttered a rarely-heard name at CPAC, repeatedly and with authority: George W. Bush. He specifically defended Bush’s record on the economy, an often heretical position even in conservative circles today.

"I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly," he said after noting Obama's attacks on the former president. "He pulled us from a deepening recession following the attack of 9/11, he overcame teachers unions to test school children and evaluate schools, he took down the Taliban, waged a war against the jihadists and was not afraid to call it what it is—a war, and he kept us safe."

The rest of Romney’s speech was mostly devoted to a full frontal assault on Obama. Despite Romney's potential weakness with his base on health care, he went after "Obamacare" head on

"America will not endure government-run health care, a new and expansive entitlement, an inexplicable and surely vanishing cut in Medicare and an even greater burden of taxes," he said. "Americans said no because Obamacare is bad care for America."

Romney said Obama "failed to focus and so he failed" on job creation and economic policy.

"As he frequently reminds us, he assumed the presidency during a difficult time," he said. "That's the reason why we argued on the campaign this is not the time for on the job training."

Showing a creative streak, he even came up with a new epithet for Democrats rather than the tired "socialist" favored by other speakers.

"If these liberal neo-monarchists succeed, they will kill the very spirit that has built the nation—the innovating, inventing, creating, independent current that runs from coast to coast," he said.

Romney received a standing ovation at the end of his speech.

Benjamin Sarlin

Dick Armey: Democrats Are Destroying America

For all the talk of the Tea Party forming a wedge in the GOP, they seem to be quite at home at CPAC, the premiere establishment conservative event of the year.

Dick Armey, the former Congressman whose group FreedomWorks is credited with helping launch the Tea Party movement, delivered a string of attacks on Obama in his conference speech Thursday morning. As a former congressional leader himself, he's sometimes been criticized even within the Tea Party as more establishment than grassroots, but several smaller groups have speaking positions as well.

Armey unleashed a string of invectives against Obama: "ideologue," "intellectually shallow," "self indulgent," "no ability... only talent," "perhaps the most incompetent president in our lifetime," among others.

"The central purpose of this presidency is for the government to be in control and redistribute income," he said. He added that Democrats were "willing to destory the America economy, the American way of life, and the American culture in order to get their hands on our lives."

He was followed by a panel of Tea Party activists form a variety of groups. Again, not all were out of the beltway types exactly: John O'Hara, who is working on a book on the Tea Party movement, served as a labor official in the Bush administration. His speech included a reference to Saul Alinsky, the leftist activist who has become an oft-cited author in conservative circles, either as a warning of things to come under "radical" liberalism or as a model of how to effectively protest from the right instead.

"Saul Alinsky in Rules for Radicals warns of a counterrevolution for the radical principles and policies he espouses, many of which we're seeing today, universal health care, cap and trade," O'Hara said. "We are that counterrevolution."

Speakers were far less concerned with any divisions between their movement and the GOP as they were with tactical issues—many cited Twitter and Facebook and urged listeners to use social media to spread their message to their friend.

Dana Loesch of the St. Louis Tea Party used frequent military metaphors in her speech to motivate the activist troops.

"Attack, attack, attack, never defend," she said.

She added:

"We're in the middle of a war and we're fighting for the hearts and minds and souls of the American people right now," Loesch said, urging conservatives to resist the urge to be "polite" in pushing their cause.

–Benjamin Sarlin

Tea Party Wingnuts Dominate Day One

Some things to keep in mind as CPAC gets started in D.C. today:

This is the first post-Tea Party CPAC. Hard to believe, but the now ubiquitous conservative populist protest movement was just getting underway one year ago. It will be interesting to see how the Tea Partiers have come to dominate the debate. Right now, the Republican Party is doing all it can to adopt the movement wholesale, and talk of a third party effort is fading. The common ground is alleged to be a commitment to fiscal responsibility, but a shared hatred of President Obama is also bringing them together. How much Obama Derangement Syndrome will dominate the proceedings is one of the key things I’ll be looking for.

All the major GOP contenders are lining up for their cattle call at CPAC, with the exception of Sarah Palin, who now apparently only speaks to the people when she’s being paid. In the first day, Mitt Romney will be giving his conservative credentials defense, as well as opening day speeches by Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio, House Minority leader John Boehner and South Carolina’s conservative standard-bearer. Senator Jim DeMint. We know what to expect from the Ron Pauls and Ann Coulters of the world, but will any of the aspiring GOP presidential nominees have the guts and foresight to pull a Sister Souljah? Will they first highlight fiscal conservative common ground and then denounce anti-Obama extremism as unwise and un-patriotic? Candidate’s instinct at CPAC is to pander, even at a time when the fringe is blurring with the base, so I’m not holding my breath.

The real action is not only at the podium, but in the crowds and small seminars, and with titles like “Saving Freedom from the Enemies of our Values” (hosted by Phyllis Schlafly), “Friend of Foe: Abraham Lincoln on Liberty” (the jury is apparently still out for some at CPAC) and “When All Else Fails: Nullification and State Resistance to Federal Tyranny” there signs of dark Wingnuttery abound, unabashed.

That “Saving Freedom” seems to be the chosen theme this year at CPAC is a snapshot into the psychology of this crew. They’ve convinced themselves that they are the true patriots trying to save our republic and that President Obama in particular and Democrats in general are hostile to freedom. This is an apparently effective recruiting tool, but it is also a psychotic distortion, a step towards a cult-like mentality of ideological purity under siege from the outside world, i.e. anyone who disagrees with them on anything. This is the mentality that leads them to conflate an arguably unwise marginal tax rate increase with incipient socialism and/or communism. It’s what leads some to confuse losing an election with living under tyranny.

–John Avlon

Marco Rubio Brings Jim DeMint to Tears

CPAC kicked off its three-day celebration of all things conservative with arguably the GOP's biggest rising star: Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio.

Rubio, who began as a heavy underdog against Gov. Charlie Crist in the party's primary only to lead by double digits in recent polls, earned thunderous applause from the audience with a speech that frequently touched on his background as the descendant of Cuban exiles. Afterward, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), the patron saint of Tea Parties in the Senate, told the crowd he was "backstage in tears" hearing Rubio speak.

In keeping with the conference's themes of "Saving Freedom," Rubio employed as high-stakes rhetoric as he could muster—he told the audience that Democrats "are asking us to abandon the things that separate us from the rest of the world."

He said Democrats "have used a severe recession as an excuse to implement the statist policies that they have longed for all this time."

Democrats have used recent weeks to launch new attacks on Republican obstructionism—at one point this month a single senator, Richard Shelby (R-AL), used parliamentary roadblocks to block votes on all of Obama's nominees for federal positions over an earmark for his state—but Rubio drew one of his biggest applause lines with a robust defense of the Republicans' intransigence.

"If the goal is to abandon America's free enterprise economy, if the goal is to convert America into a submissive member of the international community, if the goal is not to fix America, but to change America, than [the people] want leaders who will come up here and fight it every step of the way," he said.

Another issue that resonated particularly strongly with the audience was torture of suspected terrorists.

"The ones that survive we will capture them, we will get useful information from them," he said, drawing a knowing laugh from the audience, "and then we will bring them to justice in front of a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay—not a civilian courtroom in Manhattan."

DeMint (R-SC) had introduced Rubio and returned to the stage to give his own speech.

"The danger of losing freedom is no longer theoretical, it's very real," DeMint said.

DeMint famously described health care as Obama's "waterloo" last year and said that it would "break" his presidency. He returned to his comments in his speech.

"If I couldn’t come here every year and plug into the CPAC renewable energy source, I wouldn't have the strength to show up at Waterloo much less win the battle."

–Benjamin Sarlin

Click Below to Watch John Avlon on CBSNews.com's Washington Unplugged

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John Avlon’s new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback.  He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.

Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.