Sen. Jim DeMint stirred up the crowd at this morning's Values Voters Summit in Washington, but Rep. Mike Pence blew him out of the water an hour later. The audience loved the conservative congressmen from Indiana, who's a member of House Republican leadership. And Pence knew just how to get them going.
His speech was a mix of humor, policy specifics, and populist oratory. He began by reminiscing about how congressional Republicans lost their way in 2006, when they lost their majority to the Democrats. "I told my colleagues that if we kept acting like big government liberals, the American people would eventually go with the professionals. Sadly they did,"* Pence said. "I get asked all the time, 'Have House Republicans really learned their lesson?' In a year that saw every single House Republican vote against their phony stimulus and against [Obama's budget and health care reform], I'm here to say that House Republicans are back in the fight, and they're back in the fight for conservative values on Capitol Hill!" This garnered a sports stadium-esque cheer from the crowd.
Pence went on to check off items on the conservative policy agenda, starting with the Iraq War. He gave Obama credit for marking the end of combat operations in Iraq but claimed that real merit should go to George W. Bush for initiating the Surge. He called for the continued detaining and trial of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and for the upholding of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Pence also slammed recent criticism of Israel for acts of "self-defense" (presumably referring to Israel's attack on Turkish ships breaking the Gaza blockade in May), declaring, "Let the world know this if it knows nothing else: America stands with Israel!"
A skilled speaker, Pence's cadences were so well-tuned that at times he sounded like a voice-over from an action movie trailer.
After running through Republican talking points about extending the Bush tax cuts and repealing health care reform, Pence launched into a defense of values-voting in a year focused on fiscal issues:
I know that some say Republicans should stay away from these issues this year. Americans are focused on jobs and spending ... but we do not live in a world where an American leader can just focus on the economy. ... We must focus on our fiscal crisis and support our troops, we must work to create jobs and protect innocent life and traditional marriage. ... To those who say we should focus on cutting spending, I say, OK. Let's start by cutting all federal funding for abortion at home and abroad. ... You wanna find savings? Let's cut funding to research that destroys human embryos ... and let's deny funding to Planned Parenthood of America! We must not remain silent when great moral battles are being waged.
Pence's Planned Parenthood jab drew some of the loudest cheers of his speech. At one point toward the end of his address, an audience member shouted, "Pence for president!"
Felicia Sonmez of The Fix caught up with Pence after his speech and grilled him on the GOP's forecast for November as well as whether he has any White House aspirations:
Pence declined to speculate on whether Republicans will take back the House and the Senate. "I'll leave that to the pundits, but what's encouraging to me is to see so many new, courageous men and women standing unapologetically for conservative values," he said.
Asked about a potential White House run in 2012, Pence replied: "I have no plans to run for president."
*Transcriptions are rough, as they were taken during the speeches.