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March 06, 2014 1:22 PM Riding to the Sound of the Guns

By Ed Kilgore

Sounds like a pretty ho-hum morning at CPAC.

First up, Ted Cruz repeated the electoral catechism of the conservative movement: nobody loses by moving right, ever!

“There are a lot of D.C. consultants who say there’s a choice for Republicans to make: We can either choose to keep our head down, to not rock the boat, to not stand for anything, or we can stand for principle,” he said. “They say if you stand for principle you lose elections. The way to do it — the smart way, the Washington way — is don’t stand against Obamacare, don’t stand against the debt ceiling, don’t stand against nothing. I want to tell you something — that is a false dichotomy….”
Cruz said that in three of the past four election cycles, Republicans followed the consultants’ advice and ended up losing as a result.
“In ‘06, ‘08 and ‘12, we put our head down, stood for nothing — and we got walloped,” he said.
But 2010, when Republicans won a “historic tidal wave of an election,” was different, Cruz continued: That year, the GOP took strong positions against Obamacare and “bankrupting the country,” and voters rewarded them with big electoral gains across the board.

That is, of course, the most cartoonish of interpretations of the various elections he’s talking about. But as I said, it’s part of the catechism.

But the big media manget of the morning was Chris Christie’s long-awaited speech and—surprise, surprise—he touted his anti-union, antichoice record while pounding Elitist Liberals and the news media. Says veteran conservative-watcher Dave Weigel at Slate:

Christie did nothing that would upset his audience. No foreign policy talk apart from deriding the president for “letting other countries walk all over us.” No mention of his Medicaid expansion, which he’s defended many times, but a generic plea for Republicans to say “what we’re for.”

Give ‘em red meat, and when you can’t do that, give ‘em bland starchy side dishes.

But the moment that probably seemed banal to CPAC attendees but is still a bit jarring to us liberals was this one:

So Mitch McConnell gives retiring senator Tom Coburn an antique rifle as an award for “distinguished service.” Not missing a beat, Mitch’s Democratic opponent back home, Alison Lundergan Grimes (or more likely, one of her smart-ass social media tyros) immediately tweeted:

Someone tell @Team_Mitch that’s not the way to hold a gun. KY women do it better.

That may well be true. But for those of us who don’t regularly handle shooting irons, it was a reminder of how thoroughly this sort of imagery is now used by Republicans. Back in 1996, when Pat Buchanan had just beaten Bob Dole in the New Hampshire presidential primary, he told supporters:

Do not wait for orders from headquarters, mount up everybody and ride to the sound of the guns.

And then, campaigning in Arizona, Buchanan had himself photographed a number of times brandishing a rifle, much as McConnell did today.

He was pretty much hooted out of the presidential contest and off the national stage as a crazy person.

Today, he wouldn’t much stand out at CPAC.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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