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“Notes from the National Review Institute’s Conservative Summit” by Clark Judge

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The weekly column from Clark Judge:

Notes from National Review Institute’s Conservative Summit
By Clark S. Judge: managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc.; chairman, Pacific Research Institute

Most readers of the conservative blogosphere know by now that the National Review Institute hosted a “conservative summit” in Washington this past weekend – three days of panels and speeches. Wonk heaven.

The speeches came mainly from immediate – or in the cases of Tom Cotton, Mia Love and Arthur Davis longer term — prospects for the national ticket. Also getting podium time: Peter Thiel (high tech entrepreneur), Harold Hamm (energy entrepreneur) Arthur Brooks (American Enterprise Institute head), Jim Demint (new Heritage head), Bill Bennett, Charles Krauthammer and, via various MC and moderator turns, Larry Kudlow.

Here are a few observations:

1. Notes from a debate (yes, a formal debate with podiums and a moderator) on immigration: Mark Krikorian (anti) was pitted against Hugh Hewitt (pro). While Hewitt was the clear winner (no, I’m not trying to get on the right side of my editor), what most struck me were the words not spoken or, more correctly, screamed.

Several years ago, at the opening-night dinner of the CPAC conference, George Will delivered remarks on immigration very much in sync with Hugh’s this past Saturday, and several in the audience shouted protests. It was rude and a touch ugly. Will didn’t flinch and, for what it’s worth, came out of it with an extra measure of my respect.

This year, Hugh put the case even more forcefully, and there wasn’t a word of resistance. Now, true, the format was a debate, not a stand-alone speech. But I chatted with Hugh afterwards and walked with him to the reception following. As you might imagine, lots of attendees wanted to speak with him. At least until I left to talk with other friends, not one uttered a syllable of dissent.

I am not saying that harmony on immigration has broken out in the conservative community. I am saying that the tone has changed significantly. Conservatism does not sound as hotly divided as it was when Will spoke.

2. Notes from the speeches by the presidential mentions: Wisconsin congressman and recent vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. I missed most of a fifth talk, Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, which was slotted for first thing Sunday morning, when I had other duties to attend to.

Lines from each:

Ryan: “We will need prudence” and “It is a mortal sin to despair.”

Walker: The Wisconsin recall was “about who’s in charge, taxpayers or big government special interests” and, attributed to Ryan, “Courage was on the ballot.”

Cruz: “We must view everything through a Rawlsian lens, how it impacts those at the bottom” and “This Republican generation is the children of Reagan.”

Jindal: “America has one liberal party; it doesn’t need another” and the GOP must show that “government is an unleveler of the playing field” to the disadvantage of the middle income and the poor.

Impressions of each:

Ryan used a teleprompter (the only speaker to do so) and was extremely well tailored. I have nothing against perfectly cut suits. But the combined effect was a touch too regal. Not a good sign for his future on a national ticket.

Walker was more accessible. He, too, had a strong message, coming from his reforms of Wisconsin government and beating the recall campaign. But saying of himself (even if quoting someone else) that “courage was on the ballot” came off as too egotistical. In politics, you push credit to others.

Cruz was obviously brilliant and well read. How many officials in a speech without notes speak of viewing policy through a “Rawlsian” lens? The GOP 2012 message should have been, he said, not “you built that,” but “you can build that.” Still (sorry for another shallow remark here), there is a Texas style that does not travel. Rick Perry has it over the top. George W. Bush struggled with it. Cruz needs to tone it down.

Like the other three, Jindal spoke intelligently and with considerable substance. I heard him several years ago after he first became governor. He said things then that revealed a regional candidate, not ready for a national ticket. Jindal at the NRI podium was much closer to big-time ready. A really great candidate might mix Cruz’ philosophic depth and Jindal’s clarity and specificity.

3. Larry Kudlow’s message was that the spiritual and the material are complimentary to a good life and a good nation. “Keep the faith,” he said in the last session. “Things are going to be alright.”

I hope so.


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