The packed ballroom erupted when the first bars of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" blasted through the loudspeakers:
Risin' up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive
With everybody up on their feet, the man of the moment entered from the back of the room rather than from the curtains behind podium, like every other speaker.
He mingled among the people during his slow walk to the stage. Fans reached out to shake his hand or clasp his shoulders as others---too far away to touch him---clapped in unison to the song. But the source of all this adoration was not Rocky Balboa marching up to take on Mr. T's Clubber Lang in Rocky III. It was Newt Gingrich arriving at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference with a mission to teach his fellow GOPers how to survive.
It's the eye of the tiger, it's the cream of the fight
Risin' up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he's watchin' us all in the eye of the tiger
For many in the audience it seemed that the question of whether conservatives are "risin' up to the challenge of our rival" will depend on "just a man [named Newt] and his will to survive."
Easily speaking to the largest audience of the convention so far, former House Speaker Gingrich was clearly the celebrity of CPAC's Version 2009. Those who could not get inside the standing-room-only Regency Ballroom just stopped in their tracks and watched on the TV sets scattered throughout Washington's Omni Shoreham's convention area.
Gingrich showed right away that he knew his audience by launching his speech with a brief diatribe against The New York Times. Then he discussed what the future of America looks like in the midst of the "rise of the left-wing machine."
To Gingrich, the key adjective in his speech was "bad": bad government, bad policy, bad ideas, bad politics, bad bureaucracy.
Face to face, out in the heat
Hangin' tough, stayin' hungry
They stack the odds 'til we take to the street
For we kill with the skill to survive
Gingrich's biggest target was new Attorney General Eric Holder and his recent comments that America is a "nation of cowards."
"I'd love to have a dialogue with you about cowardice," said Gingrich. "Anywhere. Any time."
He called the Obama administration "arrogant" and "foolish" for cramming through the House this week the latest omnibus spending packed with thousands of earmarks despite promising an end to such target-spending practices.
"If his attorney general thinks we are a nation of cowards, his administration just thinks we are plain dumb," Gingrich said.
So many times, it happens too fast
You change your passion for glory
Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive
But Gingrich did not spare Republicans, who---he intoned---had lost their own grip on the Reagan past and changed their passions for the glory of spending. He said the era of big spending has proven to be bipartisan in nature.
"The Republican Party became the right wing of the party of big-government political elites," he said.
Saying the conservative movement is bigger than the Republican Party, Gingrich called on the gathering to transcend party and focus on principles that would lead to economic growth and more jobs.
He dubbed the 2010 election the most consequential in history and even told the conservative crowd to recruit and support moderate Democrats in competitive primaries of liberal districts.
Risin' up, straight to the top
Have the guts, got the glory
Went the distance, now I'm not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive