Sen. Mike Lee helped open up CPAC 2015, taking the stage before 9 AM on the first full day of the conference, to tell the assembled crowd of conservative activists to support potential presidential candidates who have positive, specific messages, and to beware of those who speak in platitudes.
"Specificity is crucial," Sen. Lee said. "It's essential. Abstractions are the province of candidates who say one thing on the campaign trail and do quite another in office."
Lee said that a winning conservative candidate should be "principled, positive, and proven."
When it comes to principles, Lee said that conservatives shouldn't fear internecine disagreements. "Real conservatives don't run away from disagreements," he said. "They run toward them." Disagreements within conservatism about what conservatism means isn't something that conservatives should fear. It should be embraced.
There are too many conservatives in the Obama era defining themselves by what they're for and not what they're against, and Sen. Lee took aim at this kind of a "negative" agenda. "True conservatism isn't about the kind of government we don't want," Lee said. "It's about the kind of government we do want."
"We need to be willing to expect more out of our would-be leaders... our job is not just to find the guy who can shout 'FREEDOM' the loudest."
Lee said that a proven candidate would be someone who has shown an ability to win elections - and to govern in a way that proves they deserved to win that election. A candidate with, in Lee's words, the "battle scars" to prove they're capable of both winning and leading the country.
"When conservatives elevate unserious candidates–candidates who are not principled, positive, and proven–it's not the media's fault. It's not the establishment's fault. It's our fault."