It’s an honor to be back at CPAC. But more than that, it’s an honor to speak to this CPAC.
2014 is an important year for conservatives.
Yes, the White House agenda is crumbling. Obamacare is a disaster. And President Obama has lost the confidence of the American people.
With things going this badly for the Left, especially in an election year, conventional wisdom in Washington is that the best thing conservatives can do is nothing. That our strategy should be to sit on our hands, keep our heads down, and let President Obama’s failures preserve a Republican majority in the House and win one in the Senate.
But I am here to tell you that conventional wisdom in Washington, as usual, is dead wrong. That counsel is unworthy of the Party of Lincoln and Reagan, and unequal to the task before us.
President Obama and the Democrats have done everything they can to deserve defeat. But the Republican Party has not yet done what it must to deserve victory. We have not yet won back the trust of the American people, or explained exactly why they should give it to us. 2014 must be the year we change that.
Most of the speakers you’ll hear this week will come to inspire you, or flatter you, or claim solidarity with you. I have come to challenge you.
Most of the speakers you’ll hear this week will come to inspire you, or flatter you. I have come to challenge you. #CPAC2014— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) March 6, 2014
The work remaining before us, this year and for the next three years, is the most important work conservatives have faced in a generation. It is the work of redefining our movement, rebuilding our party, and rescuing our nation.
That work will not be easy, or fun, or glamorous. Most of the time it won’t even be noticed. But it is essential to our success.
If conservatives do not do this work, we will lose in 2014, and 2016, and beyond. We will lose, and we will deserve to lose.
And whether the people at this podium are willing to do that work depends on whether the people in this audience – and conservatives in communities around the country – demand it.
The last time conservatives faced this challenge was thirty-seven years ago at the fourth annual CPAC Conference.
It was February 1977. And that winter, Ronald Reagan and his conservatives were being attacked by the Washington Republican Establishment for challenging President Ford in the 1976 primaries. They were being blamed for handing victory to Jimmy Carter and the Democrats.
But Reagan knew that it was the party Establishment that had lost that election by losing touch and losing credibility. He knew the future of the G.O.P. was not the old Party of Republican insiders, it was a new Party of Conservative Ideas.
And so Ronald Reagan came to CPAC and called for a New Republican Party, a party of principles and confidence and a positive agenda for change.
Conservatives then went about the hard, heroic work of applying timeless principles to timely problems to pivot from purges to persuasion, from protest to reform.
And those in the establishment never knew what hit them.
We can never forget that in 1976, anti-establishment conservatives found a leader for the ages - yet they still lost. By 1980, they had developed an agenda for their time - and they won.
My fellow conservatives, it’s time to do it again.
An agenda for our time must meet the challenge of our time – and of your generation. That challenge is America’s growing opportunity deficit.
We see this opportunity deficit at the bottom of our economy, where dysfunctional welfare policies trap poor families in poverty.
We see this opportunity deficit at the bottom of our economy, where dysfunctional welfare policies trap poor families in poverty. #CPAC2014— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) March 6, 2014
We see it in the middle class, where Washington drives up the costs of gas and groceries, homes and health care, of raising kids and getting a good education.
Washington creates middle class opportunity deficit by driving up costs of gas, groceries, homes, health care, raising kids, & education.— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) March 6, 2014
And we see it at the top, where political and corporate elites rig the system to benefit themselves at the expense of small businesses and working families.
And we see opportunity deficit at the top, where political & corporate elites rig system to benefit themselves at expense of everyone else.— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) March 6, 2014
Taken together, these challenges represent America’s real problem of inequality: not the income gap between the rich and the poor, but the opportunity gap between Washington, D.C and everybody else.
Progressives believe the solution to this inequality is bigger government. But big government dysfunction is the single biggest cause of all these problems.
There are conservative solutions to these problems, to close America’s Opportunity Deficit, and rescue our economy and our society from government dysfunction.
But I am here to tell you, those solutions are not coming from the Washington establishment.
A new generation of conservative ideas must come from a new generation of conservative leaders, and for the first time in a long time, they are.
Leaders like my friends, Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, John Cornyn, John Thune, Tim Scott… and Congressmen Mike Pompeo, Jim Jordan, Jeb Hensarling, Tom Graves, and Paul Ryan, among others are developing policies that, taken together, are delivering a new, conservative reform agenda to once again clarify and unify the Republican Party.
We have concrete, specific proposals to help lower-income families overcome welfare, improve education and job training, and rescue at-risk communities with too few jobs, too few fathers, and too little hope.
We have solutions to end cronyist privilege and corporate welfare, to close the Beltway Favor Bank, and put America’s political and corporate elites back to work for the rest of us.
And we have introduced legislation to rescue America’s working families from the middle class squeeze. To make it more affordable to raise and educate their kids, and afford health insurance and a home of their own.
We have an agenda. And contrary to the Establishment’s advice, we’re not hiding it from the media or the American people, or from you. It’s time for the Republican Party to stop talking about Ronald Reagan and start acting like him.
Conservatives can’t afford to win elections by default. We need to win elections with a mandate.
We are taking our agenda to the American people. And the Washington Establishment can join us, follow us, or get out of the way!
We are taking our agenda to the American people. And the Washington Establishment can join us, follow us, or get out of the way! #CPAC2014— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) March 6, 2014
A new generation of conservative leaders is rising to meet the challenges of this new era. But to build a new conservative reform party, that party needs this new conservative reform agenda. That’s where you come in.
This year, when candidates ask for your vote make them earn it. Forget their personalities and focus on their policies. Don’t settle for spin. Ask for specifics.
The kind of leaders we need won’t just tell you what they’re against. They’ll tell you what they’re for, and why.
My challenge to you is not simply to find and support true conservative reformers. My challenge to you is to become one. Become the kind of thoughtful, positive, principled conservative our movement wants, the Establishment fears, and our country needs.
Before conservatives can celebrate victory, we first must deserve it.
Just as our Founding generation made their way from the Tea Party in Boston to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia; just as Reagan’s generation made their way from defeat in 1976 to victory in 1980; so too our generation must now turn from protest to reform, from criticism to leadership, from division to unity.
Together, this new generation of reform conservatives can revive our movement, rebuild our party, and restore opportunity to our neighbors and prosperity to our nation.
My fellow conservatives, let’s get to work.