McCain’s speech at CPAC was the most eagerly anticipated speech of the day. Of course we didn’t know ahead of time (except for a few minutes before Romney came on stage, when rumors were flying) that Romney was going to announce his resignation.
Last year McCain didn’t appear at CPAC, much to the disappointment and dismay of many of the attendees, so the question was how would he be received.
He was received eagerly.
Over 200 people waiting in line had to be turned away at the door. They had been waiting for over two hours and the room had filled to capacity as soon as it opened. The Romney supporters, however, outnumbered the McCain supporters, including the people who had to be turned away at the door.
Sen. McCain’s proposals were greeted with cheers by the audience. The main theme of his message was how he has stood for conservative values during his career: opposition to agriculture subsidies; how he was against big government mandated health care and for a free market solution instead; making the Bush tax cuts permanent, to reduce the corporate tax rate and abolish the AMT; protecting Second Amendment rights, and of course, increasing troop levels in Iraq.
But the big question is the immigration issue: Having sponsored what conservatives regard as an amnesty bill, what is his current position, and how would it be received? McCain started by saying “On the issue of illegal immigration, a position which provoked the outspoken opposition of many conservatives”, and indeed several in the audience booed at that point. The McCain supporters did cheer him on, and he continued,
“I stood my ground aware that my position would imperil my campaign. I respect your opposition for I know that the vast majority of critics to the bill based their opposition in a principled defense of the rule of law. And while I and other Republican supporters of the bill were genuine in our intention to restore control of our borders, we failed, for various and understandable reasons, to convince Americans that we were. I accept that, and have pledged that it would be among my highest priorities to secure our borders first, and only after we achieved widespread consensus that our borders are secure, would we address other aspects of the problem in a way that defends the rule of law and does not encourage another wave of illegal immigration.”
Securing the borders is also a national security issue, and McCain proposed
“ Iintend to defeat that threat by staying on offense and by marshaling every relevant agency of our government, and our allies, in the urgent necessity of defending the values, virtues and security of free people against those who despise all that is good about us’
During the second half of his speech he contrasted his position on the issues against Obama’s and Hillary’s.
McCain intends to position himself for the rest of his campaign as a man of principle and conviction. Whether that will gain him the support of conservatives in the Republican party, and of the American voters at large is what will decide the upcoming Presidential election.