TIME 2016 Election

CPAC: 12 Takeaways As The GOP Presidential Race Takes Off

Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Supporters watch Rand Paul speak at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

Checking the scoreboard on day three

There’s still a straw poll winner to announce, but the biggest story lines at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference have already unfolded. Here are the 12 big takeaways from the annual gathering:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker kept the momentum alive. Riding a wave of fresh support after his Iowa debut last month, Walker was the talk of the conference and emerged even stronger despite a dust-up over comparing union protesters to ISIS fighters.

The hawkish GOP is back. The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has tempered the dovish streak percolating within the party, as speaker after speaker advocated a more muscular approach to fighting the terrorist group.

That could spell trouble for Rand Paul. The Kentucky Senator is still a CPAC favorite and a force in the party, but one of the pillars of his appeal may be eroding.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush can handle the base. In a lively question-and-answer session, Bush found his footing after an uneven start and managed to escape unscathed. “That was raucous and wild,” he told supporters after, “and I loved it.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did what he had to do: convince donors and voters alike that he’s still alive and kicking in the GOP nominating fight. No one was expecting a barn-burner from the moderate governor at CPAC, but he showed some familiar fight in a tough interview with radio host Laura Ingraham, peppering his answers with shots at the media and his 2016 opponents.

Republicans haven’t figured out how to prosecute former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s economic priorities. Speaker after speaker tied her to Obama’s foreign policy record, but mentions of her domestic agenda—and Obama’s—were rare and disjointed.

Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina had another strong performance, showcasing her willingness to forcefully criticize Clinton. Fiorina has no natural constituency or discernible path to the nomination, but her ability to play Hillary’s foil positions her for success on the debate stage and could lift her to a spot on the veep shortlist or a cabinet position if Republicans win the White House.

Moderators matter. The GOP is determined to mitigate the mainstream media’s impact on the nominating process, but CPAC showed that tapping ideologues to quiz the candidates carries its own problems. Fox News personality Sean Hannity served up softballs and cracked wise about former President Bill Clinton’s womanizing, while radio host Laura Ingraham laid bare her own biases by lambasting Bush and pushing Christie to do the same.

Sarah Palin can use her for talents for good. The former Alaska governor has long drawn eye-rolls and sighs from Republicans for her fake flirtations with the presidency and outlandish or sometimes incoherent statements. But at CPAC, Palin delivered a substantive, impassioned speech on veterans issues that called on both parties to address the needs of those returning from war.

The First Amendment only goes so far. Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson received a First Amendment Award for speaking about his faith. But the bearded reality TV personality blew through his allotted time limit, uncorking such a long, rambling speech that the CPAC organizers had to cue up music to drive him offstage.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz will run a populist, anti-Washington campaign that juxtaposes his principled stands in the Senate with the waffling of his rivals. That should make him a force in Iowa, but he still hasn’t shown how a zealous base will give him the math needed to win the nomination in this field.

Rick Santorum is the Republican Rodney Dangerfield. The former Pennsylvania senator carried 11 states in the 2012 nominating contest, finishing second to Mitt Romney. It was an impressive feat—yet he still gets no respect from the base, who filed out of the CPAC ballroom en masse during Santorum’s speech on Friday.

TIME

CPAC: Republicans Rediscover Their Old Hawkish Message On Foreign Policy

Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

The threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria looms large

Rand Paul took the stage like a conquering hero Friday, his shirtsleeves rolled, his regular laconic manner turned fiery. The audience stacked with young libertarians gave him a standing ovation. But Paul, who became the reigning prince of the Conservative Political Action Conference partly by preaching his signature brand of non-interventionist foreign policy, had a new twist in his stump speech.

Paul tamped down his famous skepticism of military adventures, and replaced it with the more conventionally muscular rhetoric of Cold War conservatism. “Without question, we must now defend ourselves and American interests,” he said, in comments about the fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). When it came to the question of federal spending, he added, “for me, the priority is always national defense.”

Paul was hardly the only presumptive presidential candidate to focus on the perils brewing abroad. The annual confab of conservative activists, held this week outside Washington, has showcased the Republican Party’s new embrace of its old hawkish foreign policy. It’s a dramatic shift from recent years, when CPAC has been a forum for the party to air its grievances about the sprawling U.S. surveillance state. But for the past two days, speaker after speaker has sought to demonstrate their steeliness, earning reliable cheers by taunting ISIS and slamming President Obama for seeking a deal with Iran while snubbing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Likely 2016 candidates, from Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina, all roused the crowd by promising a tougher brand of foreign policy than the one practiced by Obama and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Former Senator Rick Santorum, the runner-up for the Republican nomination in 2012, called for 10,000 U.S. ground troops in the middle to battle ISIS and urged “bombing them back to the seventh century.”

This view is increasingly popular within the party. A mid-February poll conducted by CBS News found that 72% of Republicans favor sending U.S. ground troops into Iraq or Syria to fight ISIS militants, an increase of seven percentage points since only October. That leap comes as the issue replaces the brightening economy at the top of newscasts.

According to aides to several candidates, the increased focus on foreign policy in stump speeches reflects increasing public concern as well as the belief among several campaigns that Republicans will have an edge with voters on security issues in a race against Clinton.

“Folks are getting beheaded over there,” says an adviser to one likely candidate. “People are seeing the failure of this president’s foreign policy on TV every day.”

The shifting political winds have heartened the hawkish groups who watched the GOP’s isolationist turn—and Paul’s rise—with alarm. “Rand and his acolytes hoped that if we left the world alone, the world would leave us alone. But experience is a cruel teacher, and beheadings and Iranian nukes focus the mind,” says Noah Pollak, the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel. “To their credit, many of the conservatives who flirted with the Rand and Obama foreign policy are changing their minds after seeing what happens when America withdraws from the world.”

The view was a popular one at an event that is a revealing—if imperfect—glimpse of the GOP’s current zeitgeist. “National security issues must be at the center of the 2016 presidential debate,” former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton declared onstage, and it seemed few of his potential rivals for the nomination disagreed.

Fiorina blistered Obama and Clinton for dithering: “While you seek moral equivalence,” she said, “the world waits for moral clarity and American leadership.” Walker, who has risen in the early primary polls by positioning himself as a conservative fighter, suggested he would take an aggressive stance on foreign policy. “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” Walker said. (A spokeswoman for Walker’s political-action committee later clarified that the governor was “in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS.”)

But it was Paul, who was most notable for having freshened his message. Back in 2011, he came to CPAC to call for cuts in military spending. “If you refuse to acknowledge that there’s any waste can be culled from the military budget, you are a big-government conservative and can you not lay claim to balancing the budget,” he said. This year he claimed “a foreign policy that encourages stability, not chaos.” His many fans here say they still believe his more restrained approach will bear political fruit. Daniel Jenkins, a 28-year old Iraq veteran and Paul supporter at Charlotte School of Law, says the senator’s foreign policy will have broad appeal in the general election. “It may not be the strongest point here among these conservatives,” Jenkins says, “but I think with Independents and in the big picture, it’ll catch on.”

CPAC is still Paul’s crowd, rippling with the young libertarians who form a cornerstone of his base. And the two-time defending champ of CPAC’s symbolic straw poll is likely to make it a three-peat when the event wraps up Saturday evening. But the annual confab has also signaled the challenges that lie ahead for the Kentucky Republican.

With reporting by Sam Frizell

Read next: Jeb Bush Pitches Skeptical Conservatives at CPAC

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TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Pitches Skeptical Conservatives at CPAC

Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

In the first pitch of his unofficial campaign to the GOP grassroots activists, Jeb Bush cast himself as a full-spectrum conservative who was in sync with the party’s base on economic, social and foreign-policy issues.

Describing himself as a “practicing, reform-minded conservative,” Bush made a game effort to ingratiate himself with Republicans who are leery of a third Bush presidency. Still, he encountered a raw dose of the disappointment that still lingers around the Bush brand.

Speaking on a low stage in a jam-packed ballroom split between hostile opponents and backers bused in from D.C., Bush drew a raucous mix of cheers, boos and intermittent heckling. “I’m marking them down as neutral,” Bush joked of the booers, “and I want to be your second choice.” A small number of opponents staged a walkout during the speech. Outside, costumed activists started a chant of “No More Bushes!”

The reception appeared to rattle Bush during the first minutes of his question-and-answer session with Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, but the former Florida governor recovered quickly to enumerate the merits of his record.

Bush defended his support of Common Core education standards. “The federal government has no role in the creation of the standards,” Bush said. He noted that as governor, he championed school vouchers and ended affirmative action in the Sunshine State’s public universities.

Tackling the other main policy obstacles looming in the GOP primary contest, Bush blistered President Obama’s executive orders on immigration as an overreach that he would reverse as president. “The courts are going to overrule that,” he said. Asked how he would’ve handled the tide of unaccompanied minors who arrived at the southern border last summer, Bush said they should have been sent home. Defending his call for comprehensive immigration reform, he said there should be a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. “The simple fact,” he said, “is there is no plan to deport 11 million people.”

Citing his record amassed as the former two-term governor of Florida, Bush sought to rebut the “moderate” tag that critics have applied. “It’s a record that may be hard for people to imagine,” he said, “because it’s a record of getting things done.”

Bush painted himself as a fiscal conservative who slashed taxes, grew the economy at a faster rate than the rest of the U.S., left his successor with a $9.5 billion rainy day fund and issued so many line-item vetoes that his opponents dubbed him “Veto Corleone.”

Like other potential presidential candidates at CPAC, Bush laid out a muscular foreign policy position that reasserted America’s place in the world. “This total misunderstanding of what this Islamic threat is is very dangerous,” he said, adding that “the American people are going to reject what President Obama is trying to do with Iran.”

Bush suggested he was in step with movement conservatives on social issues as well. Responding to a Hannity question, Bush said he had no regrets about his reaction to the Terri Schiavo controversy, and noted he was a pro-life governor who believes in “traditional marriage.”

Democrats hammered Bush for the remarks, noting he has cast himself as a rare Republican candidate capable of bridging the party’s deficit with Latino voters. “Jeb Bush isn’t a new type of Republican, and he certainly isn’t looking out for everyday people in America,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Ian Sams. “Instead, he’s the same Jeb Bush who, as governor, supported slashing funding for urban schools and higher education, while giving massive tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations. Bush may say he can bring Latino voters into the GOP fold, but with priorities like these, that’s really hard to imagine.”

After Bush’s remarks, hundreds of supporters waited in line for a closed-press reception with the former governor. Aides handed out red “Jeb ’16” T-shirts and baseball caps. To enter the event, supporters were required to register their contact info with Bush’s Right to Rise political-action committee.

Bush took the microphone at the event to the theme song from “Rocky.” Of the question-and-answer session, he said “that was raucous and wild and I loved it.” He then argued for expanding the Republican tent: “There are a lot of conservatives out there in America who just don’t know it yet.”

TIME 2016 Election

RNC Chair Turns ‘3 A.M.’ Attack on Clinton

Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, participates on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National at National Harbor, Md.
Ron Sachs—CNP/AdMedia/Corbis Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, participates on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National at National Harbor, Md., March 8, 2014.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus turned one of Hillary Clinton’s signature attack lines against her Friday, previewing a GOP theme in advance of the 2016 election.

Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference, Priebus criticized Clinton for allowing her foundation to accept money from foreign governments while she was service as Secretary of State.

“Taking money from countries like Algeria and Oman while she was Secretary of State,” Priebus said. “Which makes you wonder: How will those donations affect her answer to that 3 a.m. phone call?”

“I can hear it now: ‘Don’t worry, sultan, just send 10 million to the Foundation, and it’ll all work out,'” he added.

The 3 a.m. attack is a reference to one of Clinton’s most biting hits on then-Senator Barack Obama, questioning the first-termer’s ability to handle complicated foreign policy questions.

Tying Clinton to the Obama administration’s foreign policy record is a central component of the GOP’s strategy to take her on. Priebus’ attack is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Reaches Out to Conservatives at CPAC

Jeb Bush will make his first overtures Friday to conservative activists, a segment of the Republican Party that remains skeptical of the presumptive presidential candidate.

The former Florida governor’s appearance at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington marks an early test of whether he can assuage a grassroots base that rejects his support for immigration reform and Common Core education standards and is leery of his political lineage.

Given the choice by conference organizers, Bush has opted for a question-and-answer session instead of a traditional speech. Bush’s advisers believe the format plays to the strengths of the former Florida governor, who has been been deft in extemporaneous exchanges with audiences during early appearances this year but whose delivery during speeches—with and without teleprompters—has been rushed and uneven. Bush is scheduled to take questions for 20 minutes Friday afternoon from Fox commentator Sean Hannity.

Bush is hoping to use Friday’s Q&A to highlight his conservative record as governor of Florida, but that isn’t entirely up to him. If there was a lesson on Thursday, it was that the moderators matters.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who also opted for the Q&A format, fended off a series of fastballs fired by radio host Laura Ingraham, who grilled him on his temperament and slide in early primary polls. Hannity, meanwhile, lobbed a series of underhand softballs to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. But there is no guarantee that Bush will receive the same friendly treatment.

To offset any simmering hostility in the room, Bush’s political-action committee is coordinating transport for supporters to the event—a tactic that Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are also using to ensure friendly crowds. His assigned slot on the conference speaking schedule—following firebreathing NRA executive Wayne LaPierre on the day when Paul supporters are expected to pack the audience—makes the alternate speaking format all the more preferable.

The Q&A format is also symbolic of the type of campaign Bush hopes to run. Earlier this month in a meeting with donors to his super PAC, Bush promised to set up a “digital media platform” to engage in a conversation with voters should he formally launch a presidential campaign.

“You can’t ignore the political process at all, but there is a better way I think of having a two-way communication with people, and to share some powerful ideas that will lift people’s spirits and make their lives better,” Bush said.

Friday’s appearance is an early test of whether Bush, who has been busy vacuuming up the support of the party’s elite financiers and operatives, can have the same success performing for an audience with a much different makeup.

The last time Bush came to CPAC, the reception was tepid. Both the substance and style of his speech were a strange fit for the young, rowdy crowd whom Bush gently admonished to stop chattering while he spoke.

“Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker,” he told the audience. “We must move beyond the divisive and extraneous issues that currently define the public debate. Never again can the Republican Party simply write off entire segments of our society because we assume our principles have limited appeal.” Some conservatives felt the critical notes of Bush’s speech to the confab were off key at a conference that celebrates the party’s doctrinaire impulses.

Bush spent Thursday attending the winter meeting of the conservative Club for Growth, the latest stop on his effort to demonstrate his conservative bona fides.

Despite the grilling, Thursday’s interview was a relative victory for Christie, who could never deliver the same degree of red meat as Ted Cruz. He used the format to beat up on the press and his leading opponent: Jeb Bush.

TIME 2016 Election

Walker: If I Can Handle Union Protests, I Can Handle ISIS

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, MD on Feb. 26, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, MD on Feb. 26, 2015.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker brought the red meat to the conservative grassroots audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, but his address was short on substance about what he hopes to do should he be elected president.

The all-but-certain Republican presidential hopeful sharply criticized the Obama administration’s foreign policy, but when asked about how he would deal with the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), dodged.

“For years I’ve been concerned about that threat,” Walker said, saying he received security briefings from the FBI and his adjutant general. “I want a commander-in-chief who will do anything in their power to ensure that the threat of radical Islamic terrorists do not wash up on American soil.”

“If I can take on 100,000 protestors, I can do the same across the world,” Walker added, referencing the months of protests in his state over his efforts to limit the power of public sector unions in his state.

Pacing around the stage in shirtsleeves, Walker was high-energy, riding a wave in national polling following a well-received address in Iowa last month. Walker largely kept the momentum alive, drawing multiple standing ovations with criticisms of Washington, D.C. and the Obama administration.

“We need a leader in America who stands up and realizes that radical Islamic terrorism is a threat to our way of life and to all freedom loving people around the world,” Walker said in his speech to loud applause. “We need a president, a leader, who will stand up and say we’ll take the fight to them and not wait til they bring the fight to American soil for our children and grandchildren.

After the speech a Walker spokesperson said he in no way intended to compare Americans to ISIS.

“Governor Walker believes our fight against ISIS is one of the most important issues our country faces,” said his political action committee communications director Kirsten Kukowski. “He was in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS. What the governor was saying was when faced with adversity he chooses strength and leadership. Those are the qualities we need to fix the leadership void this White House has created.”

“Let me be perfectly clear,” Walker told CNN after the speech. “I’m just pointing out the closest thing I have to handling a difficult situation, was the 100,000 protesters I had to deal with. There’s no analogy between the two other than difficult situation.”

TIME 2016 Election

Defiant Chris Christie Swipes At News Media, Jeb at CPAC

CPAC Conservatives Republicans Chris Christie
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME New Jersey governor Chris Christie on stage at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 26, 2015.

New Jersey Gov. Christie struck a defiant tone at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday, taking swings at the media and his leading presidential rivals as he fought off the notion that his likely presidential campaign is moribund.

In a 20-minute interview on stage with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, Christie cast himself as the victim of media attacks and a fighter for the middle class, while saying he’s unconcerned by his declining poll numbers in the crowded Republican field.

“When you do things like I’ve done in New Jersey, that take on a lot of these special interests that they support, they just want to kill you,” Christie said, of the New York Times. “And that’s what they try to do me every day. And here’s the bad news for them. Here I am and I’m still standing.”

Asked about his falling national poll numbers, Christie said they are irrelevant 20 months before Election Day. “I’ll take my chances on me. I’ve done pretty well so far,” he said.

The outspoken governor criticized former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s assertion that immigrants could help repopulate Detroit. “That’s misdirecting the priorities,” he said, saying the priority should be on helping those who live there.

“If the elites in Washington who make backroom deals decide who the next president is going to be, then he’s definitely going to be the frontrunner,” Christie said of Bush. Once the favorite of the establishment donor class, Christie now finds himself edged out by Bush for his once stalwart backers.

Christie also took a veiled shot at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who sought to downplay his pro-life positions during his 2014 re-election bid. “I’m pro-life,” he said, drawing applause for saying he vetoed funding for planned parenthood five times for ideological reasons. “I ran as a pro-life candidate in 2009 unapologetically.”

Christie’s frequent criticism of the media drew steady applause from the audience of conservative activists, a traditionally tough crowd for him.

“The focus unfortunately with a lot of people in politics right now is what they say on the editorial pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post,” he said. “What we should be concerned about is what I heard when I traveled to 37 states last year: they want opportunities for great careers for themselves and their children, and we’re not talking about that.”

“I went to my parish priest and said I’m giving up the New York Times for Lent,” Christie added when Ingraham asked what he’d given up. “Bad news: he said you have to give up something you’ll actually miss.”

 

TIME 2016 Election

Four Things to Watch for at CPAC This Year

CPAC Mark Peterson Candidates
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME A reporters asks CPAC attendees to pick their favorite candidate, in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 26, 2015.

The annual confab offers a good look at the grassroots zeitgeist

The conservative grassroots will gather by the thousands just outside of Washington, D.C., on Thursday for the annual ritual known as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Part political rally, part marketing bonanza and part youth bacchanal, the event is one of the few in which the far-flung factions of the party come together for a three-day blitz of speeches, panels and policy sessions.

For movement outsiders and American voters, the conference offers a compressed glimpse of the conservative zeitgeist, and a platform for the party’s presidential candidates to rouse the faithful in the coming campaign. Here are four story lines to watch as the event kicks off:

How will Chris Christie and Jeb Bush be received?
The party’s two establishment-backed candidates have been warmly received at CPAC before, but the knives may come out now that their all-but-certain presidential campaigns have attracted the money and muscle of the Acela corridor elites that the grassroots distrusts.

Both candidates will be interviewed by conservative broadcast personalities — Bush by Fox News’ Sean Hannity, and Christie by radio host Laura Ingraham. Bush is out to show that the “moderate” moniker he’s been tagged with by opponents is inaccurate, and will try to steer the conversation to the conservative record he compiled as the two-term governor of Florida. Christie, meanwhile, will have to defuse questions over his temperament while addressing his complicated fiscal record in his state.

How has the media onslaught affected Scott Walker?
In recent weeks, the Wisconsin governor has been embroiled in a controversy over President Obama’s patriotism and faith, but the media-driven debate may only have bolstered his standing with the conservative grassroots. Walker’s well-received speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January propelled him to the top of the (largely meaningless) early primary polls. Can he summon the same magic far from the heartland? Another strong showing would help shore up Walker’s support as he battles establishment competitors in the race to vacuum up the party’s top bundlers and operatives. A weak showing would reinforce the emerging narrative that the Wisconsinite may not be ready for gauntlet of a national campaign.

Where is the party on foreign policy?
The GOP’s isolationist and neocon wings will share the same stage this weekend, as Congress debates a war resolution against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) as well as President Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba. A public spat between the White House and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before his visit to Capitol Hill next week is likely to be a topic that plenty of speakers touch upon.

Who will win the straw poll?
The conference is capped by a candidate straw poll, which for two years running has been captured by Kentucky Senator and presumptive presidential candidate Rand Paul, who tends to play well among younger activists. The results have never augured much, given that candidates can stack the halls with their supporters by hawking discount tickets (which are required to vote) and swag giveaways. But even if imperfect, it’s still a measure for gauging who’s rallying the right.

TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Says Family Legacy Wouldn’t Affect War Decisions

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at a Economic Club of Detroit meeting in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2015.
Paul Sancya—AP Former Florida governor Jeb Bush speaks at an Economic Club of Detroit meeting in Detroit on Feb. 4, 2015

"I would have a duty to protect the United States," the 2016 contender said

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush said Wednesday that he would not be overly cautious about deploying American troops overseas solely to avoid earning the label of having launched a “third Bush war.”

“I would have a duty to protect the United States, and there are circumstances where a Commander in Chief, a President of the United States, has to make tough decisions, and history is full of examples of that,” Bush, during an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, said when asked about his father and brother’s campaigns in Iraq. It was Hewitt, not Bush, who used the phrase “third Bush war.”

“I wouldn’t be conflicted by any legacy issues of my family. I actually am quite comfortable being George Bush’s son and George Bush’s brother,” Bush said. “I don’t think there’s anything that relates to what my dad did and my brother did that would compel me to think one way or the other”

Asked whether the looming fight between the Bush and Clinton clans sends the wrong message to the world about democracy, Bush said the coming campaign can’t be about dynasty.

“If the campaign’s about a dynasty, I’m not sure that that’s going to work,” he said. “If it’s about how you advance ideas that will help people rise up then it will be an inspiration for others, and that’s what we need to do.”

Bush criticized President Barack Obama for “disengaging” from the Middle East and for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq after Obama failed to secure a so-called status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government.

“Had we kept the 10,000 troop commitment that was there for the President to negotiate and to agree with, we probably wouldn’t have ISIS right now,” Bush said, referring to the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

Bush, who has sought counsel from a broad array of foreign policy thinkers, including many of those involved in his brother and father’s Administrations, told Hewitt he had not fully studied up on the issue of the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The U.S. fleet of Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines are due to be retired at the end of the next decade and their replacements are still on the drawing board. “To be honest, I can’t give you an informed answer to that,” Bush conceded. “But the fact that we’re not planning here over the long haul about the role of the U.S. Navy and the military in our national defense is troubling.”

Asked whether he would be willing to debate potential rival Senator Marco Rubio in Spanish, Bush said he’d jump at the chance. “I love being with my friend Marco,” Bush said of his fellow Floridian. “I don’t know whether I could keep up to him with his perfect Spanish but my close-enough Spanish, I think we would have a fun time doing that.”

Bush said that should he formally declare his candidacy, he would be sure to carry his message into Spanish-speaking communities, criticizing Mitt Romney’s delay in doing so during the 2012 campaign.

TIME 2016 Election

Gay Rights Activists Fire Early Shot At GOP Field

Governor Chris Christie in NH
Rick Friedman—Corbis N.J. Governor Chris Christie speaks at the Concord and Merrimack County GOP's 3rd Annual Lincoln-Reagan Dinner in Concord, N.H. on Feb. 16, 2015.

The Human Rights Campaign is firing an early shot at the emerging presidential field, releasing polling and research highlighting their opposition to same-sex marriage.

On Wednesday, the group unveiled a micro-site highlighting GOP rhetoric on LGBT issues, including their positions on marriage, conversion therapy and bullying. The launch is pegged to this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference, which has blocked the sponsorship of the GOP gay group Log Cabin Republicans. (Although the group will participate in a panel discussion.)

The group is highlighting the results of a survey it commissioned of 1,000 self-identified LGBT voters showing that few would even consider supporting Republican candidates. Only 15 percent would consider New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; 12 percent, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; 9 percent, Sen. Rand Paul; 9 percent, Sen. Marco Rubio; and 5 percent former Sen. Rick Santorum.

“For those committed to LGBT equality, actions speak louder than words,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC’s Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that a field with so many Republican candidates is so united against basic LGBT rights, from marriage equality to protecting LGBT Americans from discrimination.”

Among a sub-sample of 120 self-identified Republicans a majority say they would not back either Paul or Santorum, while the remaining candidates poll within the margin of error.

The GOP’s autopsy into the 2012 election found that gay rights issues are a gateway subject for LGBT voters, but also for young voters of all stripes. “We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too,” the Growth and Opportunity Project report stated. But while a number of Republican governors have dropped opposition to same-sex marriage in their states after court rulings, none have personally said they are supportive of such unions. The issue is a litmus test for many conservative voters in Iowa, and is set to be injected into the political debate once again as the Supreme Court ways the issue nationally.

The survey was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for the Human Rights Campaign by surveying 1,000 self-identifying lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals on Jan. 25-31. The full sample has a margin of error of ±3.1 percent, while the small sample of Republicans has a margin of error of ±8.28 percent.

Correction: The original version of this story mischaracterized the Log Cabin Republican’s involvement in CPAC. The group was invited to participate in the conference.

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