Rudy Giuliani is speaking now at the CPAC conference, and he is drawing huge crowds -- not only in the Regency Ballroom where he is appearing, but also around every monitor in the exhibition hall. He's keeping the CPAC attendees riveted, and the place is otherwise as quiet as I've seen it since my early morning arrival.
George Will introduced him to the CPAC audience by noting that only three Presidents have served as mayors previous to their national election: Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, and Calvin Coolidge, the latter being the last President with whom Will completely agreed. Will noted that the mayoralty of New York City carries specific challenges, calling it "liberalism's laboratory" and a center for "learned dependency". He spoke about Giuliani's conservative instincts -- such as when he declared fatherhood the best social program, or raising taxes a "dumb, stupid, idiotic, and moronic idea". Will assured the CPAC activists that Giuliani's conservatism is the same flavor as Lady Thatcher's, and that pugnacity is his political philosophy.
Rudy spoke afterwards, and he hit some familiar themes. He started by talking about the non-binding resolutions on the war, which he acknowledged Congress had every right of debating. However, Giuliani used this to show the general bankruptcy of leadership in American politics. America does not elect people to Congress to be commentators, but to make decisions. Let George Will do commentary, he said, as Will knows what he's doing. Congress should make decisions and live with the consequences, not abdicate their responsibilities or use the process of legislation to make meaningless, useless gestures.
Giuliani returned often to the theme of leadership. He talked about how Ronald Reagan defied public opinion to do the right thing so often, and becoming a great President in the process. He staged Pershings in Europe even though he got roundly excoriated for it. He refused to sign a bad deal at Rekjavik, and people claimed he would bring the end of the world.
He also alluded to his differences with CPAC activists. Giuliani said that he understands that we will have some differences, but told people to beware making your 80% ally a 20% enemy. He joked that he might have just described some marriages. Giuliani urged CPAC to focus on areas of agreement and to determine who will most effectively carry those points of agreement to the White House.
Afterwards, he spoke at length on national security. He says that the Democrats want to go back to the way we handled national security in the 1990s, allowing the US to remain paralyzed waiting for international approval. He drew great applause with this line: "We don't have to be ashamed of acting in our own interests."
Rudy ends by invoking Ronald Reagan a final time, saying we need peace through strength. He's getting a huge ovation as he leaves the stage, and it was a stirring speech, no doubt -- and no surprise.
If you want a clue as to his impact here at CPAC, I'll give you this description. Mitt Romney has turned out a fabulous response, with scores of young people acting as barkers for Mitt in the hallways. Campaign activists have prowled the hallways both days. Exhibitors have tried buttonholing passers-by to make their own special pleas. Everyone of these people gathered around television monitors, enraptured until the final word.
Very impressive, and tough to follow. Mitt Romney will be on at 2:45 pm ET today, and he'd better be bringing his A-game.