The Conservative Opportunity — 2016

The Following is an amateur transcript of a speech delivered by Senator Mike Lee to the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa on January 24, 2015.

Emphasis is my own.

“…My name is Mike Lee; I’m from Utah, and I’m not running for President.

I’m probably the only one up here today that can say that but there’s got to be somebody not running after all. As I see it, I have a different task up here than most of the other speakers up here today. The media and the pundits and the consultants might not be so interested in my speech for that very reason. This is the slot in the program for them to go grab a sandwich and that is fine.

My speech to them today isn’t about them. It’s for you. It’s about you. And I’m here for the same reason you’re here. I’m here to listen, to watch, to observe, learn because you and I, we have a job to do.

Having endured unprecedented executive overreach by a guy who wants to make law with a pen and cellphone, whatever that means, having endured trillion-dollar deficits and spying, lying, and political targeting by our federal government, I’m ready for the important task ahead. It’s going to be our job here, very soon, to help choose the next President of the United States of America. [Applause]

Now, we should be very clear from the outset — before any votes, or debates, or candidates even announce their candidacies for the presidency, the next President of the United States is going to walk into an even tougher job than perhaps anyone to approach that office in an entire generation. The next President is going to have to clean up messes, created at home and created abroad by President Obama and his allies in Congress over the last several years.

You know today we find ourselves in a position where we are less safe, we’re less secure, we’re less prosperous than we were just a few short years ago. The world remains a very, very dangerous place.

The American people have been asked by their elected officials in Washington time and time again to just settle for what we have — to settle for deficits, deficits of all sorts, budget deficits, security deficits, and leadership deficits.

Most importantly, the American people are facing a different kind of deficit, a deficit of opportunity. This Opportunity Deficit is trapping poor families in poverty, rigging the system to benefit political and economic elites, and squeezing everyone else, squeezing America’s middle class in-between.

That. Must. Stop.

You see what we have right now is a federal government and bipartisan status quo that works for insiders on Wall Street, on K Street, and on Pennsylvania Avenue, while working families on Main Street are ignored, forgotten, and far too often simply left behind. The job of the next President involves nothing less than restoring to all Americans their God-given right to have a limited government of, by, and for The People.

Understandably under these circumstances, the question that everyone seems to be asking is whether the men and women thinking about running for President are up to the job and that’s a legitimate question. We’ve got governors, Senators, statesmen, men and women of great talent and integrity and courage who have a lot of experience. We have fresh faces and we have innovative ideas ready to shake up Washington and help us to revive at long-last The American Dream.

This is, therefore, an exciting time to be a conservative.

Contrast the sunny enthusiasm on The Right with the cold, gloomy permanent Winter that you see on The Left, where the same old partisans and the same old ideology are shuffling into 2016, determined as it were to coronate yet another outdated, outmoded holdover from Washington’s broken political status quo.

But enough about them. I want to talk about us. That is what we’re here to talk about today.

The way I see it, the real question heading into 2016 is not whether the candidates running for President will be up to their job. No, the real question is whether conservatives who will choose the next President — that’s you and me — whether we will be up to our job. So am I asking you right now, what do you say?

Are we ready!?

Are we ready to pick the next great transformative President of the United States!?

[audience cheers “YES!”]

I am right there with you and I can say with absolute certainty I am ready with you!

And I hope all within the sound of my voice are ready too because, let’s be honest, in recent years we haven’t been.

We’re here today because we understand that there is more we need to do than what has been done in the past.

Since Ronald Reagan left the White House in 1989 — good times by the way when we had him there—but since then we’ve had six presidential elections. My party’s nominee has lost the popular vote in five of those six elections that have occurred since then. And I’m here to tell you if we don’t choose a positive, principled, and proven conservative to run in 2016, that number is going to be a disappointing six out of seven. We can’t let that happen. But those are the stakes.

For the Republicans running for President, the most important part of their job will of course begin on January 20th, 2017 when they hope to take that elusive Oath of Office. But for those of us who are conservatives and who aren’t running the most important part of our job starts right here and right now.

It’s not going to be an easy choice. The 2016 field of candidates could well be the best and the biggest that conservatives have ever seen before. And that is a good thing.

But we can’t let ourselves get caught up in the hype. No, we have a job to do.

This is a time before campaigning truly begins in earnest for conservatives to think long and hard about the kind of candidate we’re ready for. That is what I’ve been doing and if it’s alright, I’d like to take just a few minutes and tell you, one conservative to another, about the leader I’m looking for and why I think you might be looking for him or her as well.

In one sense, what I’m looking for in a President is very similar to what I’m looking for in a Senator, or in a Governor, or in a State Legislator, or someone running for City Council. I’m looking for a competent, thoughtful conservative that I can trust to get the job done.

But the Presidency, of course, demands even more. The job itself is enormous. Before he or she is elected, a successful President must first build a really successful party and unite it, expand it, and remake it while up against a liberal media and a self-serving political establishment.

The substance of the job is even harder, of course, than the politics. It doesn’t just involve national and international policy, but it also involves national and international leadership.

A successful Presidency depends on a messenger for the ages, one that has a message for the moment.

How do we find someone like that? I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately, and I can’t speak for anyone else but it seems to me that conservatives should be looking for a candidate who is three things: Principled, Positive, and Proven.


What does it mean to be principled? Principled means we need a candidate who is conservative every day and not just during the campaign. Principled means there are no buts, there are no caveats, there are no qualifications. It certainly means we’re not going to see a candidate that says, “I’m a conservative, but…” or “I’m personally pro-life, but…”, “I want to repeal Obamacare, but…”

A principled conservative doesn’t hide behind talking points. He tells you what he thinks and why. That is not to say we have to agree on every issue. Serious conservatives disagree all the time. They disagree from time to time on taxes, on foreign policy, on health care, you name it. This is crucial for conservatives making our choices as we head into the 2016 presidential election cycle. Very often, you learn a lot more about a candidate when he disagrees with you on an issue than you do when he happens to agree so don’t get fooled.

The principled conservative we’re looking for is not necessarily the guy who shouts, “Freedom!” the loudest. He’s not necessarily the guy who dials up his criticism of the President to 11 or 12. He’s not necessarily even the guy who tells the funniest Joe Biden jokes.

No, the principled conservative is the one who, when he disagrees with you on an issue, he admits it and he has the authenticity to explain his legitimate conservative reason for disagreeing with you. That is how you can tell the difference between someone who is a conservative only on the stump and someone who is truly a conservative in his head and in his heart.


A great man once said that a true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him but because he loves what is behind him.

As conservatives, we should aspire to this same standard because true conservatism isn’t about the kind of government we don’t want, at least it’s not just about that. It’s about the kind of country we do want.

This has been true since America’s Founding.

As we all know the Boston Tea Party was a defiant protest that we all remember and we all celebrate today but it would be only a footnote in history if that same generation didn’t make their way to Philadelphia fourteen years later to write The Constitution — to write the Constitution, that 227-year-old Founding Document that has fostered the development of the greatest civilization the world has ever known, the Document that needs to control more of the political discourse in Washington than it does today.

You’d be surprised at how often that Document is disregarded or left out of the discussion altogether. That is what prompted me to write my book, The Lost Constitution, we want to restore it.

So the positive candidate I’m looking for can tell us much more than what he’s against — he can tell us what he’s for! He’s got a plan; he has specific political ideas about how to unite and grow our coalition and specific policy ideas to reform government.

This isn’t just about a candidate's’ ideology. It also speaks volumes about their character. One of the best ways for political candidates to show us about their character is providing the American people specific details about their policy agendas, showing their work just like in math class growing up, back in the good old days before Common Core!


Back in the good old days, back when Governor [Scott] Walker was still flipping burgers as he described it.

Let me put it this way: if a presidential candidate tells you that he wants to repeal Obamacare but doesn’t have a health care reform proposal of his own…

If he tells you that we need tax reform or we need to get rid of the IRS but he can’t say what his new tax plan would look like…

If he tells us we need to secure our borders and reform our immigration system but he doesn’t tell us how he would do that…

If he tells us we have to be more compassionate to the underprivileged but then equates compassion with broken government programs, the same kind of government programs that all too often trap poor families in poverty; on the other hand, if he tells us we need to cut welfare for the poor while protecting corporate welfare for big business…

If he tells us we need to take on the special interests but then protects special interests in his own party or in his own state…

If his stump speech only criticizes other people’s positions or mistakes instead of proposing solutions of his own…

Then maybe we should keep looking for a different candidate.

If, however, someone can offer our nation, this nation, a positive, innovative conservative agenda that re-expresses our timeless convictions to fit the challenges of our times…

Then that is the candidate who can earn our trust and our support.


What does it mean for a candidate to be proven?

To me it means two things: I’m looking for someone that has proven himself by winning big, difficult fights on election day.

And, at the same time, I’m looking for someone who has won big, difficult fights after election day, while in office.

We shouldn’t be looking for just one or the other and rolling the dice on the rest.

Conservatives need to demand both — a candidate that has shown he can win elections and shown that he deserved to win, someone who has stood tough on principle when the going got tough and has the battle scars to prove it, yet someone who has also shown he can win broad mandates and build diverse coalitions to overcome entrenched interests.

The conservative candidate who ignores moderates is as misguided as the moderate candidate who ignores conservatives.

The candidate we all deserve can attract both without alienating either.

Finally, a proven candidate will have proven her or himself in the arena, on the field, and with the rest of us and not just from the sidelines.

Principled. Positive. Proven.

Right now, we don’t have any candidates yet and everyone deserves an equal chance to meet this standard but that should be the standard.

Principled, positive, and proven is what we as conservatives need to challenge ourselves to become and we expect from our next President.

The good news is that, so far, every serious conservative looking at this race meets at least some of these criteria already. That is not something we’ve always been able to say in the past.

We’re going to have a great field and that means we’re going to have a very tough choice ahead of us but this is our job, and we have to do it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to put this as clearly as I can: if conservatives don’t produce and support a candidate who is all three of these things — principled, positive, and proven — then we will have no right to complain about whoever the Washington Establishment chooses to nominate instead because it won’t be their fault, it will be ours.

Just imagine for a moment, if we do find the candidate we’re all looking for. the happy warrior who knows what he stands for and for whom and with whom he stands, who knows how to pick the battles and also what it takes to win them, who champions free enterprise and civil society as networks of opportunity for individuals and communities to come together and solve problems that big government only creates or makes worse, who takes on The Establishment and the special interests of both political parties and makes the conservative case for government of, by, and for The People, who unites our coalition and grows it by attracting support from millions of hard-working families that The Left has simply left behind, who runs on a Reform Agenda that modernizes and reinvigorates The Right while exposing the elitist hypocrisy of The Left…

Imagine for a moment someone who makes the case to a nation gripped by economic insecurity and social isolation that here, in America freedom doesn’t mean you’re all on your own, freedom means we’re all this together.

That’s looking ahead. That’s a candidate and a campaign we can all look forward to.

More importantly, far more importantly, that is the candidate and the kind of campaign that the American people have been waiting for. It’s the candidate Americans deserve, and the one conservatives can produce if we stay true to our own highest ideals and most stringent standards.

That is the candidate I’m looking for in 2016 I’m here to ask for your help. We can find that candidate and open the doors to a brighter future and restore hope for a better America.

Thank you very much and may God Bless America.” 
 — U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R, Utah)