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« CPAC Opens With Renewed Confidence | Blog Home Page | From Romney, Red Meat And A Defense Of Bush »

Military Tribunals A Big Applause Line At CPAC

Marco Rubio, in his morning keynote at CPAC, got no bigger applause line today than for attacking the Obama administration over prosecuting terrorists.

"We need to make it unmistakably clear that we will do whatever it takes for however long it takes to defeat radical Islamic terrorism," Rubio told hundreds in the Washington hotel ballroom.

That means, he said, destroying terror cells and their leaders. "The ones that survive, we will capture them," he said, to which someone in the audience shouted: "Waterboard them!" Rubio laughed, and simply continued: "We will capture them. We will get useful information from them. And then we will bring them to justice in front of a military tribunal in Guantanamo. Not a civilian courtroom in Manhattan."

Rubio's speech, his first major introduction to conservatives outisde the Sunshine State, was warmly received, and focused primarily on what he said was a critical moment that this fall's election represents. He did not mention Gov. Charlie Crist (R), his primary rival, by name. But he did allude to him at several times, saying at one point that "the U.S. Senate already has one Arlen Specter too many."

"2010 is not just a choice between Republicans and Democrats. It's not just a choice between liberals and conservatives. 2010 is a referendum on the very identity of our nation," Rubio said.

And because so much is at stake, he said that "many of the old rules of political engagement will not apply." For instance: "A long list of establishment endorsements will not spare you a primary. Clever one-line slogans aren't going to spare you the need to discuss policy issues in detail. And the old tires political attacks that worked once in the past are not going to get you elected this time."

Rubio closed with the story of his up-from-his-bootstraps upbringing.

"Every chance I've ever had, and everything that I will ever accomplish I owe to God, my parents' sacrifices, and to the United States of America," he said, drawing a standing ovation. "My parents never achived wealth or influence, but their hard worked opened doors for their children that had been closed to them. To me, their story is the very essence of the American miracle."

To make sure that was still possible for future generations, he said Americans must decide whether the nation continues to be "exceptional," or like everyone else. "Our task this year is to make sure that Americans choose the right one."