WASHINGTON — Today, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) attended the Heritage Action Conservative Policy Summit to discuss opportunities to unite around a bold agenda to save the American Idea. Watch the event live here. Below are his full remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you very much. I want to thank Mike and everyone at Heritage Action for hosting us today. These are the kinds of conversations we need to be having. These are the kinds of conversations we were having when I was working for Jack Kemp at Empower America. That’s how House Republicans put together the Contract with America.
“I’m a Jack Kemp, Ronald Reagan conservative. They both understood we need to be talking about what our vision is and how we can make it a reality. We need to raise our gaze. That’s how you move America forward. And that’s what I want to talk to you about.
“Let’s cut to the chase: There are a lot of people hurting in America right now. They don’t think the promise of this country is real for them. The American Idea—that the condition of your birth, it does not determine the outcome of your life—a lot of people don’t think that’s true anymore. And if the American Idea is not true for everybody, then it is not true at all.
“And we just can’t accept that. It goes against everything this country stands for. We are the conservative party. We want to conserve this country’s promise. And so we care about opportunity. We want every person in this country to find the American dream. That is our mission.
“So the question we face in 2016 is simple: Do we want more of the same? Do we want the liberal progressives to lock in all their gains? Or are we, the other party—the conservative party—going to get the country back on the right track? And how do we do that?
“To quote William Wallace in Braveheart, we have to unite the clans.
“We have to unite conservatives around a bold, pro-growth agenda that will get America back on track—and then take our agenda to the people. We have to take our founding principles—freedom, liberty, free enterprise, self-determination, government by consent—apply them to the problems of the day, and come up with real solutions that will build a confident America. If we don’t think the country’s headed in the right direction—and we don’t—then we have an obligation to give the people of this nation a choice for a better way forward. And that’s what House Republicans are going to do.
“My theory of the case is this: We win when we have an ideas contest. We lose when we have a personality contest. We can’t fall into the progressives’ trap of acting like angry reactionaries. The Left would love nothing more than for a fragmented conservative movement to stand in a circular firing squad, so the progressives can win by default.
“This president is struggling to remain relevant in an election year when he’s not on the ballot. He is going to do all he can to elect another progressive by distracting the American people. So he’s going to try to get us talking about guns or some other hot-button issue and not about his failures on ISIS or the economy or national security. He’s going to try to knock us off our game. We have to understand his distractions for what they are. Otherwise, we’re going to have a distraction this week, next week, and the week after that. And that’s going to be the Obama playbook all year long.
“And so what I want to say to you today is this: Don’t take the bait. Don’t fight over tactics. And don’t impugn people’s motives. It’s fine if you disagree. And there’s a lot that’s rotten in Washington. There’s no doubt about that. But we can’t let how you vote on an amendment to an appropriations bill define what it means to be a conservative. Because, it’s setting our sights too low. Frankly, that’s letting the president define us. That’s what he wants us to do. That’s defining ourselves as an opposition party, instead of a proposition party.
“So we have to be straight with each other, and more importantly, we have to be straight with the American people. We can’t promise that we can repeal Obamacare when a guy with the last name Obama is president. All that does is set us up for failure . . . and disappointment . . . and recriminations.
“When voices in the conservative movement demand things that they know we can’t achieve with a Democrat in the White House, all that does is depress our base and in turn help Democrats stay in the White House. We can’t do that anymore.
“I don’t want to set us up for failure. I want to set us up for success. That’s something we all can work on—together. And the way to do that is to unify around a vision. We need to define the horizon we’re aiming for. And then we need to bring the rest of the country with us.
“That’s why I’m really heartened by what you’re doing today. You’ve put out your plan to get America back on track. Now we’re putting together our own. And today we’re going to share ideas and flesh out our vision. If we keep this up, I think there will be no question that in 2016 the Republican party will be the party of ideas. As you know, we’re already at work on our agenda. It has five parts: national security; jobs and economic growth; health care; poverty and opportunity. . . .
“And finally, the last piece of this agenda—and it is so critical to all the others—is restoring the Constitution. The president's executive overreach has undermined the Constitution and damaged the people’s trust. What needs to be done to restore the separation of powers and protect our constitutional liberties? What good is enacting all these great conservative policies if another charismatic progressive can talk his or her way into the White House again and undo it all with a pen and a phone?
“So, those are our five points. We’re saying, here is what we will do if you, the men and women of America, give us a Republican president we can work with to do this. And we’re ready to work with everyone at Heritage Action as we put together that agenda.
“We want your ideas and your input. As far as I’m concerned, if you have ideas, we’re all ears.
“Because the way I see it, that’s how we turn the country around. In the late 1970s, Jack Kemp and House conservatives put out a plan to cut taxes and restore America to her greatness. It was bold and aspirational. It was so compelling that Ronald Reagan ran on those ideas in 1980.
“And what happened? Reagan ran the tables. The Republican party won a mandate from the people, and the rest, as they say, is history. And Mandate for Leadership was a cornerstone of that moment.
“Well, that is exactly what we need to do today. And the stakes are even higher. So we need to be inspirational. We need to be inclusive. We need to show how our principles and policies are universal and how they apply to everybody. We know that the economy is weak. We know that the world is on fire. We know that the future is uncertain. There’s a lot of frustration and anger out there. And is it justified? It sure is.
“But we should not follow the Democrats and play identity politics. Let's talk to people in ways that unite us and that are unique to America's founding. That’s what I think people are hungry for. And that really is the essence of the Republican party—or, more importantly, the essence of the conservative movement. And that is our mission for the next six months.
“All told, I am excited. I am optimistic. Why? Because the Left is intellectually exhausted. Their ideas have failed. And we are just getting started. We have all the makings for a mandate from the people to save the American Idea. Now let’s go get it.”