I thought Haley Barbour acquitted himself well on Saturday, February 12, 2011, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) when he delivered a thoughtful speech in Washington to the large annual gathering of conservative activists. Predictably, he stated at CPAC (and on the next day on Fox News Sunday) that he was exploring the possibility of running for President of the United States; but he also showed me a glimpse of what his message would be if he does take the plunge.
Basically, Haley stated that the country is in deep trouble and is crying for a new leader. “The main thing is electing a Republican President”, he said. “We cannot put America on the right track until we elect a Republican President in 2012 and a Republican Senate to join the Republican House.”
While most other potential presidential candidates were vague at CPAC (and on the next day’s talk shows) on how to cut spending, POLITICO correctly observed that Haley “spent considerable time explaining how he had governed as a conservative and not just given lip-service to small-government principles.” He explained to the national audience (carried on C-SPAN) how Mississippi eliminated its $720 million budget short-fall in two years without raising anyone’s taxes; and how he found “cost savings in Medicaid” over the objections of the usual suspects - the “liberal media elite”.
In concluding his remarks on fiscal issues, Barbour made a statement which, to me, reflected a clear understanding of the fiscal problems that the next President will face after 2012: “you can save money on entitlements, you just gotta have the will to do it.”
In his speech, Haley also made an appeal to social conservatives by noting that “Mississippi [is] the safest state in America for an unborn child. And he also paid his respects to the Tea Party movement by stating that Tea Partiers are concerned about the same policy issues that Republican volunteers and leaders are concerned about. “Rather than divide us” Barbour said, “these are the issues that unite us, unite us as conservatives, unite us as Republicans and unite us as Americans.”
Some, like Walter Shapiro of POLITICS DAILY, thought Haley’s speech was “clunky” and “boring”, while praising an equally “boring” speech by Indiana Governor, Mitch Daniels, as an “intellectually compelling call to arms against the red-ink forces of the nationals debt” which required “listening rather than pep-rally applause.” Others, like the GOP strategist quoted by the POLITICO, thought Haley’s address “was a speech full of signifiers and markers for primary.” As I listened to my fellow Mississippian, I agreed with the strategist: here is a candidate who has “walked-the-walk on spending, restricted abortion, and welcomes Tea Partiers”. As a Southerner, I also saw another signifier and marker when Haley closed his speech by stating that Lincoln was the father of the Republican Party; and that the Republican Party stands for freedom in today’s society. As Reagan once said, “Not bad, not bad at all.”
As I have stated in this space before, if the voters are as aroused as they were in the last congressional elections and are looking for a presidential candidate who is capable of steering the national ship of states through troubled waters, Haley Barbour will assuredly be a “top-tier” candidate for President in 2012.