By Cameron Joseph - 03/14/13 05:44 PM EDT
A fiery Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) riled up the faithful at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), issuing a clarion call for American exceptionalism as well as social and fiscal conservatism. But Rubio avoided all mention of immigration — his key legislative issue.
"We don't need a new idea. There is an idea. The idea's called 'America' and it still works," he said to roars from the audience, warning conservatives not to abandon their principles.
"Our people have not changed. The vast majority of the American people are hard-working taxpayers," he said. "Our challenge is to create an agenda applying our principles."
Despite his heavy focus in the Senate on immigration in recent months, Rubio didn't mention the issue to the conservative crowd, a telling sign of the divisions within the movement on the issue. It's also a sign Rubio doesn't want immigration to define him in the minds of conservative activists. Rubio has not avoided questions on immigration, but has yet to focus on it in any of his major addresses this year.
The senator, who launched to national stardom with his 2010 CPAC speech, joked that his first speech to the event came when his "chances of winning in the U.S. Senate were about as much as my chances of winning a papal conclave."
Rubio focused more on social issues than he often does and defended an interventionist foreign policy — comments that seemed aimed at solidifying his support with traditional conservative voters and setting him apart from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
"Do not underestimate, I know this movement does not, the impact that the breakdown of the family is having on the American people and our long-term future," Rubio said echoing an argument most often heard from conservatives like former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).
Opposing abortion "does not make you a chauvinist" and opposition to gay marriage "doesn't make you a bigot," he declared.
Rubio implicitly disputed Paul's views on foreign policy. Paul, who favors a less interventionist U.S. foreign policy, took the stage after Rubio, to roars from the libertarian crowd.
"We can't solve every war. We can't be involved in every armed conflict, but we also can't be retreating from the world," Rubio said.