Texas Republican senator John Cornyn squandered his victory lap Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference with a lukewarm speech that fell far short of the Rick Perry roof-raiser it followed.
Cornyn called for a “a new era of accountability” in American governance before a welcoming but relatively undemonstrative audience, which had erupted into whoops and cheers for Texas governor Rick Perry just a few minutes earlier.
Cornyn is coming off a decisive victory for the GOP establishment over the Tea Party. On Tuesday he tossed and gored primary challenger Steve Stockman, the Republican member of Congress for the Lone Star State’s 36th District, which was created in 2010.
Stockman first represented Texas in the U.S. House during a single term from 1995 to 1997 in the ninth district seat, and he won his current seat in 2012. But his attempt to ascend to the Senate ended in a landslide for Cornyn, 60 percent to 19.
Nevertheless, Cornyn drew mostly polite applause throughout a speech that emphasized the Obama administration’s many blunders and predations.
“American history is filled with stories,” Cornyn noted, about the accountability of the founders. He then alluded to Parson Mason Locke Weems’s apocryphal story about young George Washington and the cherry tree, which is unsupported by any original documents or testimony, as evidence for the first president’s high concern for personal accountability.
Not all the applause was tepid. Cornyn did succeed in getting a credible call and response going with the audience, as the senator rattled off a series of rhetorical questions on IRS targeting; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ Fast and Furious program; and other scandals familiar to the audience.
Cornyn also invoked a litany of bad results, perverse incentives, and sad stories about the Affordable Care Act before concluding of Obamacare, “We conservatives predicted things like this would happen.”
Cornyn continued his accountability theme throughout the address, calling for conservatives to lead the charge toward more oversight. His recommendation for restoring accountability was not ethical but electoral. He called for Republicans to hold the House and retake seats in the Senate this year and build momentum for a presidential win in 2016.
Most members of the audience, which only filled about a third of the seating in the ballroom, rose to their feet as Cornyn closed with a request for God’s blessing on America.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this post had an inaccurate description of Stockman’s House tenure. Thanks to commenter jasonhsv for the correction.