I returned yesterday from CPAC10. The American Conservative Union and the CPAC staff deserve a lot of credit for putting together a great conference that even now, two days after it has adjourned is still making news.
I will recap individual speakers and then offer some general observations and give a list of winners and losers at this event.
The conference started out with an address by Marco Rubio, a Republican candidate for Florida Governor, who is challenging the current Florida Governor, Charlie Crist who was endorsed by the NRSCC (National Republican Senate Campaign Committee). The story of his life growing up the child of Cuban refugees in south Florida was inspiring. Very compelling speaker, and ahead of Crist by a significant margin as this is written.
One of two surprises the first day, Dick Cheney being introduced by his daughter, Liz Cheney who was the scheduled speaker. There was a movement there to “Draft Cheney in 2012”. The former Vice-President pretty much put that to a halt when he said that “It ain’t a gonna happen”. Something tells me that Draft Cheney movement will focus on Liz Cheney–and I would be just fine with that.
Mitt Romney was introduced by the newly elected and seated Republican Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Scott Brown, who announced that he had driven to the Marriott hotel in his truck. While Gov. Romney gave an outstanding speech, to his discredit, he was one of the few speakers to use the teleprompter. By the way, by Thursday afternoon, the teleprompter jokes had become very stale.
Michele Bachman and Mike Pence spoke on Friday. Both gave compelling and emotional speeches about what it means to be a conservative and but more importantly, what it means to be an American.
On Saturday, the big guns came out. Rick Santorum, Andrew Breitbart, William Bennett and Ann Coulter filled the morning program. And to the sounds of “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky, Newt Gingrich entered the ballroom from a side staircase and worked his way through the crowd.
Then came the keynote speaker of the conference, Glenn Beck. He spoke eloquently of his love for this country, his admiration of Ronald Reagan, and that he felt that although it suffers from a hangover, it still is “Morning in America”. On reflection and after watching the speech again on video, I am not sure that I want to go along with that analogy, but I do agree with one statement that Beck made, and that is that the Republicans (Conservatives, if you will) must do better, and that they just can not “suck as much as the other guys”. For a long time, I have heard this, that there really is not much difference, and in retrospect, those comments are probably correct. But as Beck suggested, this is a time when the conservative movement has the opportunity to break that pattern and for the first time in 70 years, can establish itself as the pre-eminent political philosophy of this country turning back the tide of trying to remake America into a Western European-like nation.
From those reflections, I will now list what I see as the losers, then the winners at CPAC:
1. CPAC Straw Poll: over 10,000 registrants were eligible to vote, but less than 25% chose to do so. The voting by over 6,000 students in attendance no doubt gave Ron Paul the 33% that he garnered to be declared the winner. While Cong. Paul was declared the winner with 33%, it is also important to note that 67% of those who voted, did not vote for him. Winner status? Hardly.
2. Sarah Palin: This was her crowd. Her statement of a month of so ago that she felt that CPAC was tainted because of the organizer, David Keene’s involvement with a Fed Ex/UPS pay for play incident was lame. These were people to whom her message of limited government, strong national defense, reasonable energy policies, and fiscal responsibility would have resonated. This was a major faux-pas on Gov. Palin’s account to diss CPAC.
3. Social Conservatives: On the survey for the straw poll, when asked the most important issues facing our nation today; abortion, gay rights, same-sex marriage were far down the list, I believe each garnering in the single digits. Economic issues, size of government and those of national security are obviously paramount with most conservatives. Social conservatives need to understand that without a conservative majority in the Congress or state legislatures they have little or no chance of forwarding their agenda.
4. Mike Huckabee: See #3 and because he was dissing CPAC10 and the straw poll even though he did not attend, but was in Washington DC to interview Michelle Obama for his Fox News TV show. (Note: Gov. Huckabee received 4% of the straw poll vote, don’t give up your day job, Governor!)
Now for the winners:
1. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty: all possible Presidential candidates for 2012. Why are they winners? By default, actually. They did no harm. Should be interesting. As I live in Iowa, I am sure that I will be seeing more of these gentlemen and their surrogates in the near and forseeable future.
2. Congressional Republicans: Well, at least the ones who showed up. Sen. Jim DeMint, Reps. Michele Bachmann, Mike Pence, Steve King were all compelling speakers and made their case to ask for help to get a Republican majority back in the Congress in 2010.
3. Tea Party Movement: Many attendees were Tea Party folks and speakers who mentioned this grass-roots movement were met with loud applause. These are the new political activists. I spoke to a couple from Florida who had retired there from the Rust Belt. They had never been politically active in their lives, but they had become so in their early 70s. The Tea Party movement seems to defy age, geography, and political affiliation in its scope. They are a force to be reckoned with–they are electing candidates and it would behoove the Republican Party to give them their proper place at the political table.
4. The Republican Party: This remains to be seen. Chairman Michael Steele made an appearance at one of the banquets, but garnered less than 50% in approval on the straw poll. The people at CPAC remind me of that shampoo commercial from several years ago…a consumer uses a particular shampoo and tells two friends, who in turn tell two friends and so on and so on. Ten-thousand attendees at CPAC going home to tell friends, family and neighbors of their experience and what they took away from the conference then multiplied exponentially, well, how significant can that be? How many of you after reading this post will send it on to others of like minds? …..and so on and so on…..
This was my first CPAC experience. I am hoping it will not be the last. Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan, the Godfather of CPAC if you will. If February, 2011 will see a Republican majority returned to the House and Senate, and conservatives across the country win back Governorships and state houses, well you may want to get your reservations made early. The energy at this year’s conference after wins in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, will pail in comparison.