The Heritage Foundation

News Releases

March 4, 2016

March 4, 2016 | News Releases on

Conservative Ideas Win Elections

[Remarks to CPAC, as prepared for delivery at
3:40 p.m., Friday, March 4, 2016]

What a year! More than a decade of frustration and disappointment by conservatives has led to a complete rebellion against the status quo in Washington. 

All of the Washington establishment, political consultants and media pundits have been wrong about what Americans want. And they still don’t get it.  Conservatives are sick and tired of business-as-usual in Washington, and we aren’t going to take it anymore.  How many of you here today feel the same way?

I’ve had a chance to watch it happen from the inside of Congress and from outside of Washington, and I want to set the record straight about what’s really going on in this election. 

I ran for Congress in 1998 with the slogan to “Bring Freedom Home.”  This meant to move dollars and decisions out of Washington and back to the states, communities and the people. 

I thought that was what all Republicans believed.  I also thought Republicans wanted: to stop wasteful spending and balance the budget; to make health insurance affordable, available and portable for all Americans; to reduce taxes for all hard working Americans; to keep our promises to seniors and veterans, and to control our borders.  That may have been what Republicans in Washington may have said that, but it wasn’t what they did when we had majorities in Congress and the White House.

In fact, those of us who tried to keep our promises to the voters and change business as usual in Congress were treated like villains.  I was once dressed down by a senior Republican Senator in front of all of my colleagues after I endorsed and raised financial support for several young conservative candidates for the Senate.

The official Republican Senate Committee had endorsed more liberal candidates, claiming that conservatives couldn’t win in states where my candidates were running.  All the discussion was about how we could get to 60 Republicans in the Senate.

This senior leader wagged his finger at me and said, “DeMint, you don’t know how Washington works.  It’s not about the principles, it’s about the numbers.”  I stood up and responded, “We’ll have the numbers when we have the principles.”  

Too many Republican leaders don’t believe conservative ideas and candidates can win elections.  We’ve proved them wrong.

During Mr. Obama’s presidency, conservative ideas and candidates have helped Republicans replace Democrats in 11 Governor’s mansions, 13 U.S. Senate seats, 69 House seats, 913 state legislative seats. Running on conservative principles has given Republicans majorities in 30 state legislatures.

Just last month, West Virginia became the 26th state to pass a right to work law.  Six states have defunded Planned Parenthood since the infamous baby-parts videos. Many states have rejected Common Core, and five states have passed expanded education choice through Education Savings Accounts. Twenty-one states have passed a Religious Freedom Act to protect the religious convictions of their citizens.  These are all ideas that win elections and make life better for Americans, and it’s long past time that Republicans in Washington wake up to the values and principles Americans expect and deserve.   

Conservatives were patient with politicians in Washington for far too long. But after all the bail outs and special favors in the last year of the Bush administration, and then the Obamacare takeover of healthcare, the Dodd-Frank takeover of our financial industry, and trillion-dollar-a-year deficits, it was time for a little takeover of our own!

Conservatives revolted with the Tea Party in 2010.  And even though Tea Partiers gave Republicans the majority in the House of Representatives, the Republican leadership wanted nothing to do with them; they tried to crush the new conservatives in the House.  It was frustrating because the Tea Party represented the big tent of diverse Americans that Republicans said they wanted.

Two years later, when Republicans tried to take the White House from Obama, Republicans wanted nothing to do with the conservative activists who had given them the majority in the House two years before.  Instead, they followed the political consultants’ advice and ran on a bland, middle-of-the-road platform in 2012.  Without bold conservative ideas and a grassroots army to counter Obama’s ground game, Republicans lost big time, and Obama got another four years.

But conservatives didn’t give up.  In 2013, while Republican leaders in Washington were telling us Obamacare was settled law, conservatives organized a nation-wide effort to defund Obamacare.  It was the only way Republicans could stop this destructive law from calcifying around our healthcare system. 

All the Republican establishment, the downtown cronies and the media claimed that taking a stand against Obamacare would hurt Republicans in the 2014 elections.  But Republicans had their best election in decades, winning a large majority in the Senate and adding to their Tea Party majority in the House. 

Who’s hurting now? Perhaps, Eric Cantor and John Boehner!  And yet the Washington establishment, the consultants and Republican leadership in Washington said they won in 2014 because they beat conservatives with more moderate candidates.

But Senators Tom Cotton and Joni Ernst didn’t run on moderate ideas in 2014!  They and many other Republican candidates for the House and Senate ran on bold, conservative ideas and against the Washington establishment.  They ran against amnesty and for border control; they ran on repealing and replacing Obamacare; they ran on cutting wasteful spending and balancing our budget … they ran on bold conservative ideas, and they won.  When Republicans run on bold, positive conservative ideas, they win.

This year the leading Republican candidates are running on our conservative agenda: stopping illegal immigration, repealing and replacing Obamacare, replacing Common Core with more education choice, balancing our budget and moving programs back to the states, reducing the size of the federal government and creating more opportunities for all Americans.  And they are standing with hardworking, taxpaying, middle-class Americans against the special favors for political cronies of both parties.  That’s what we do at The Heritage Foundation.

Opportunity for All, Favoritism for None!  This is our cry.  This is our promise.  Conservative ideas will achieve the promise of the American dream.  Conservative values, principles and policies will make life better for every American.  This is not about politics. It’s about people, and it’s about improving the quality of life for everyone.

Friends, the political parties and the candidates will do their thing.   But let’s not forget that we are part of a battle of ideas for the heart and soul of America.  We are the foot soldiers and leaders of the conservative movement. 

Our job at Heritage—and your job wherever you are stationed in this battle—is to make sure Americans know that our values, principles and policies are what made our country so exceptional, prosperous and strong.  If we do our job right, if we continue to grow and build this conservative movement, the candidates will run on our ideas and win.  Then, and only then, will we reclaim America. 

Thank you all, and God bless America!

About the Author

Jim DeMint President
President's Office