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Santorum, CPAC's Elvis

From NBC's Abby Livingston
WASHINGTON -- During the CPAC convention, it takes about 30 seconds for a reporter
walking in off the streets here to realize he or she is not in
hyper-Democratic D.C. anymore.

It is at CPAC where defiant newspaper stands carry "The Washingtom
Times" rather than "The New York Times" or "The Washington Post." It is
at CPAC where mere mentions of words like "ACLU" or "Eric Holder"
elicit audience boos and "homeschooling" elicit audience cheers.

And it is at CPAC where former Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is still an ideological force.

His speech to the adoring CPAC crowd did not disappoint. He entered to
the music of Elvis, and it was fitting, because he was a CPAC rock star.

Santorum started the speech leveling a three-point argument for why the
conservative movement is on the outs: the GOP's ethical lapses,
incompetence and lack of principles.

He claimed that the 1994 Republican Revolution, a wave he rode into
the U.S. Senate, would never have happened without Democratic scandals.
He then attributed his party's recent defeats to the same issue.

"People will put up with a lot," Santorum said. "But not people who are
dishonest."

He then indicted the Bush administration for the Hurricane Katrina
response, saying, "The buck stops with the president." Santorum added
that the incompetence translated to public relations difficulties on other issues, specifically the
war in Iraq.

"We were making a lot of mistakes," he said. "We were afraid to tell
them the truth as to who the enemy is."

Defying both William Safire and
Bush speechwriters, he said, "We are not fighting a war on terror.
Terror is a tactic."

Addressing his last reason for conservative failure, Santorum said, "We
were unprincipled in the end."

He blamed then-President Bush, then-GOP
nominee Sen. John McCain and then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulsen for
opening the flood gates of government bailout aid. To Santorum, last
fall's bailout "opened the door that the next president is bulldozing
through."

Santorum pleaded not to abandon social conservative and neoconservative
ideals and to embrace Reagan's three-legged stool. He does not,
however, advocate waiting for the political pendulum to swing back into
the GOP's favor.

"Hoping your opponents screw up is not a strategy for
victory," he said.

Santorum is disgusted with many aspects of society. Among those are:
Iran, Eric Holder, liberals and the media. On Iran, he said, "They [Israel] will fight with them [Iran] with every fiber in their bones,
and we need to do the same. He callled conservatives "the grown ups,"
and classified liberals as "emotional," following up with an allusion
to the left-wing as "effeminate."

Santorum believes there is a liberal conspiracy to destroy the family
and church, employed by forces in the media, specifically Hollywood. In
an era when many parents push their children to pursue careers in
science and engineering, he took a different angle. He praised talk
radio's ability to reach the logically minded, and pleaded with
conservatives to encourage their children to go into careers in the
arts, specifically screenwriting and acting, to portray stories that
"reach your heart." It was a call echoed throughout the day at CPAC.

His final criticism of liberals was, "They think they found themselves
a savior," referencing Obama. The crowd laughed. Santorum did not see
the funny, chastising, "Don't laugh."

And the audience stopped.