SALT LAKE CITY — The American Conservative Union kicked off their annual three-day Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday, focusing on several issues that conservatives have been criticized for losing grip on in the months since losing the presidential election.
The three-day conference enlists some of the leading conservatives in the nation, with members of the conference discussing the direction of the country and the conservative leadership that is expected to carry on the message as elected representatives.
As one of the conference's early speakers, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, addressed conservative principles and the need for a civil society, saying conservatives need to "focus on the principles that will lead us to the kind of country and society we want for ourselves and our future."
Lee described these principles as a society where the American people care for one another more than anything else.
"The opposite of bad government is civil society," Lee said. "A free and strong civil society is built on the innate desire of Americans to freely contribute to the betterment of the community. Civil society is the result of the relationships that connect, bind and strengthen up.
" 'We, the people' does not mean a collective adherence to the agenda of the ruling class," Lee added. "It instead means as Americans we share basic values and principles that when viewed as a whole help form and protect a more perfect union."
Also addressing the conference Thursday were probable 2016 presidential frontrunners, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The senators brought a sense of excitement to the attendees of the conference, as both senators outlined varying opinions as to how the Republican Party should move forward in the future.
Paul, the son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, called for a change to the party, while Rubio maintained that the party doesn't need any new ideas.
"The GOP of old has grown stale and moss covered," Paul said. "The new GOP, the GOP that will win again, will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and personal sphere. If we are going to have a Republican Party that can win, liberty needs to be the backbone of the GOP. We must have a message that is broad, our vision must be broad, and that vision must be based in freedom."
The message of liberty was touted by Paul's father during his three attempts at the presidency, which garnered a strong following around the country as the "Facebook generation" looked for an alternative to the traditional two-party system.
Many see Paul as a viable contender in the future direction of the GOP, particularly in regards to his outspoken opposition to President Barack Obama's administration. Most recently, Paul staged a 13-hour filibuster on the senate floor to send a message to the Obama administration for not refusing to answer questions directly about drones potentially being used on American citizens.
"We prize our Bill of Rights like no other country. Our Bill of Rights is what defines us; it's what makes us exceptional," Paul said, when addressing the subject at CPAC. "To those who would dismiss this debate as frivolous, I say tell that to the heroic men and women who sacrificed their limbs and lives. Tell that to the 6,000 parents of kids who died as American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tell them the Bill of Rights is no big deal."
Rubio addressed many of the social issues facing the country today, criticizing Democrats for their attacks on the Republican Party for not embracing such subjects as gay marriage and abortion.
"Just because I believe that states have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot," Rubio said. "The people who are actually closed-minded in American politics are the people who love to preach about the uncertainty of science with regards to our climate but ignore the absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception."
Rubio's speech was well-received by the crowd as he touched on economic issues and immigration reform. In January, Rubio was part of the "group of eight" senators that put forth a bipartisan immigration plan that would grant a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
"As soon as I'm done speaking, I'll tell you what the criticism on the left is going to be," Rubio said concluding his remarks. "Number one, he drank too much water. Number too, that he didn't offer and new ideas.
"And there's the fallacy of it. We don't need a new idea. There is an idea: the idea is called America, and it still works."