Washington, D.C. – Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a potential 2012 presidential contender, delivered a low-key, policy-focused address to the Conservative Political Action Conference this morning — and it earned him a rousing standing ovation. Unlike many CPAC speakers, Barbour abstained from crowd-pleasing one-liners. Instead, in his syrupy Southern drawl, he offered a solemn critique of the Obama administration’s “hostile” agenda.
“Make no mistake,” Barbour intoned, his hands slicing the air in the sprawling ballroom at the Marriott Wardman Park. “The reckless policies of the Obama administration and the left-wing Congress have brought America to a crossroads.” He warned about the economic consequences of the “stimulus,” Obamacare, out-of-control federal spending, and growing uncertainty in the business sector.
Barbour, in a wink at a possible run, told the crowd that “electing a Republican president next year” should be its “main” priority. While liberalism is “exhausted,” he said, conservatives must put forward experienced leaders who can offer a viable alternative.
While he has long been a member of the GOP establishment, Barbour took care to cheer on the Tea Party and slam the “liberal media elites” who mock the movement. Republicans, Barbour warned, will be “defeated as quickly as the Democrats” if they are “not faithful” to the country’s founding principles. The GOP, he noted, won countless races in 2010 because it advocated better policies. In future elections, he urged the party to stick to that model, since the “average American” agrees with Republicans when the choice is clear.
The growing deficit was another key area of Barbour’s speech. “The Congressional Budget Office informs us this year’s deficit will hit a staggering record of $1.5 trillion,” he lamented. “For every dollar it spends, the federal government will have to borrow 40 cents — much of it from the Chinese government. My generation’s children and grandchildren — that’s many of you — will be handed the bill, a gargantuan debt to pay.”
Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican Governors Association, also praised state leaders for taking control of fiscal problems. Barbour highlighted Gov. Mitch Daniels (R., Ind.), another potential 2012 contender and his close friend, for balancing budgets in the Hoosier State; he also gave a thumbs-up to Gov. Chris Christie (R., N.J.) for slashing spending in a blue state. He even had kind words for Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, for his tight-fisted policies.
As conservatives look at the developing field of presidential candidates, Barbour hinted that a governor may be the best option. “Governors deal with problems, and voters have decided, from here on out, leaders should be judged not by their hopes or intentions; leaders must be judged by the results they achieve,” he said, to applause.
Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker mulling a presidential run of his own, also got a shout-out from Barbour for his work on energy policy, which is near the top of the Mississippi governor’s concerns. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota’s high-profile former governor, who is also looking at a 2012 run, was not mentioned by Barbour, his former RGA colleague. It was a notable absence.