Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Friday embraced the call for change in the Republican Party in an address Friday that some members of the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference said restored their faith in McConnell's leadership.
McConnell's relationship with his party's conservative wing has been rocky. He was criticized for giving in to President Obama on spending cuts and he tried unsuccessfully to defeat a Tea Party candidate running in his home state, Sen. Rand Paul. But on Friday McConnell praised the Senate's Tea Party faction, saying newcomers like Paul and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., will energize the party. He called Paul, the man he tried to defeat, as a "warrior" who should be emulated, not criticized.
He called conservatism "a movement of renewal," and said Paul and Rubio are "ready to take America into the future."
At the same time, McConnell said that even as the party evolves it must continue to tout the principles of low taxes and smaller government.
"Society may change, demographics may shift, but the principles that make us a free and prosperous society never do," McConnell said. "And conservatives, we own these principles."
McConnell was followed by former Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who stuck to his conservative budget bullet points.
Ryan, who has mostly ducked the spotlight since losing the election with GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, held onto his House seat and is chairman of the Budget Committee. He released a 2014 spending blueprint last week that cuts the federal budget by more than $5 trillion and reduces the cost of Medicare by raising the age of eligibility and transforming the program into a "premium support" plan.
His address to CPAC focused almost solely on that plan and the way he believes it is better than the Senate Democratic version, which would raise taxes and leave entitlements untouched.
"They call their budget a foundation for growth, restoring the promise for American opportunity," Ryan said. "When you read it, you will find the Vatican is not the only place blowing smoke this week."
Ryan did not talk about the election he just lost or the future he envisions for the GOP. His enthusiasm was markedly dimmed from the speeches he delivered on the campaign but his message from last summer and fall was the essentially the same: "A balanced budget will promote a healthier economy. It will create jobs, and nothing is more urgent than that."
It was the line that received the most applause in a reception that was warm but far less enthusiastic then the one that greeted the party's newest stars, Rubio and Paul, at the conference's opening Thursday.