GOP Hopefuls, Defending the Dream
A little-known small government group called Americans for Prosperity found itself quite popular this week: its first conference drew almost all of the GOP's White House hopefuls. In between clips of Ronald Reagan talking about the virtues of small government, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback and Ron Paul spoke out against high taxes and big government to a crowd of more than 1,000 tightly-packed into a ballroom at the Mayflower Hotel. John McCain held a small event for the group on Capitol Hill on Thursday night and Mitt Romney was due to speak Friday evening.
Giuliani drew the loudest applause for a speech that repeatedly bashed Hillary Clinton, as the ex-mayor lampooned her idea of giving $5,000 to every child born in the United States and repeatedly compared her governing ideas to those of Europe.
Noting the recent election French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a conservative who is considering tax cuts and has earned the praise of many Republicans, Giuliani told the "Defending the American Dream" audience about a dream of his own. The former mayor said he dreamt of Sarkozy flying in a plane on the U.S while passing another plane headed toward France. "Sarkozy can see inside the window of the plane headed for France. And the people going from the United States to France waving to him are Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards," Giuliani said, using his simultaneous air travel story to imply that the current Democratic candidates' approach to government was similar to that of the French political ideals that Sarkozy had defeated.
While Giuliani won loud applause by promising to rein in federal spending and get rid of earmarks, Thompson got a milder reception as he focused more on limiting spending on retirement programs like Social Security.
The loudest applause wasn't for any of the candidates, but for Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, who was dubbed "The best United States Senator there is" by Tim Phillips, the group's president. Coburn has drawn the ire of even Senate Republicans for his opposition to pork in congressional bills.
The candidates' attendance at the event underscored how important spending issues have become on the Republican side of the 2008 campaign. With a base eager to hear how candidates will shrink the government, particularly in New Hampshire, Romney and Giuliani spent much of this week in a back and forth over which candidate has most strongly opposed taxes in his career. Thompson has railed against a growing federal government since he started running, and a big part of McCain's reform message has long been reform of pork gets into legislation.
--Perry Bacon Jr.
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