NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland–Here at CPAC, we’ve made it through the first two days with some great speeches and debates.
Probably one of the things I love most about the new format of the conference is the question and answer format at the end of the event. The third and final day of the conference will take place tomorrow, but here are some observations from day two.
1. The return of Scott Walker:
Gov. Scott Walker finished yesterday with a well-received speech, but he returned to CPAC again today for a visit for a Citizens United coffee and a number of other events.
His address to the packed smaller room was largely taken from his speech a day earlier, but he did discuss running for president in more detail.
“I think the closer one gets into this possibility, the more you realize you have to be crazy to want to be president of the United States,” Walker said, acknowledging that he was speaking “half in jest.”
“When you look at the impact that it has not just on the person, but on their family and those that they love and hold dear, you realize you have to be crazy to want to be the president,” he added.
Getting more serious, Walker continued.
“To me the only reason you should sanely do that is if they feel called to, and so I would ask more than anything, not just for your grassroots support, not just for your financial support, but in the coming days and months as we go down this journey forward, as we prepare to look at exploring that possibility I would ask for your prayers for God’s discernment as to how best to go forward.”
Walker also attended a College Republicans event and visited radio row for a few interviews — all the while moving slowly as he was swarmed by supporters. Walker also did another round of media interviews — even spending time clarifying a line from his speech yesterday which sent the mainstream media into a tizzy.
“Let me be perfectly clear: I’m just pointing out the closest thing I have to handling this difficult situation is the 100,000 protesters I had to deal with,” Walker told reporters, denying that he regretted saying the line during his speech.
Turning on reporters, he continued.
“You all will misconstrue things the way you see fit. That’s the closest thing I have in terms of handling a difficult situation, not that there’s any parallel between the two,” he said.
2. Marco Rubio: Hillary Clinton Is Yesterday
Sen. Marco Rubio’s appearance was well received and well attended, even though he was among the early morning speakers. During his speech, he reminded activists how his first CPAC appearance helped propel him forward in his Senate race — when he was at the bottom of the polls.
Rubio’s speech was wide-ranging and idealistic as he called for a plan for another American century. The tone was typical for a potential presidential candidate. Rubio has been testing his message on the trail in Iowa and New Hampshire, but this was the first time he took it nationally.
During the interview portion of the event, Rubio acknowledged that he “learned” from his early attempt to pass immigration reform, pointing to the safer political desire to secure the border. Rubio also blasted Obama’s executive actions on immigration, arguing that it was a “constitutional issue,” not just a policy debate.
During Hannity’s one-word response quiz, Rubio replied “Yesterday” after Hannity asked for a response to Hillary Clinton. That was enthusiastically received by the crowd, demonstrating a clean contrast between the former Secretary of State and the younger Republican star.
As expected, he featured a robust foreign policy in his speech which is enjoying a bit of a comeback in the era of ISIS.
3. Jeb Bush’s CPAC fail
I expanded this argument in a full piece. Bush looked coached and flippant during his CPAC performance. Most of his support heard on television appeared manufactured.
4. Rand Paul Rocks The House
Sen. Rand Paul has always been well received at CPAC in part due to a high percentage of young people in the audience — including members of grassroots groups like Young Americans for Liberty.
Groups of supporters wearing #StandWithRand t-shirts were peppered throughout the audience, as well as some of the side aisles. As the Senator spoke, they shouted, “President Paul!”
During the inevitable question about foreign policy, Paul triangulated his position on foreign policy between Republicans who believed “we should be never be anywhere” outside the borders and those “who believed we should be everywhere all the time.”
Paul couched his position in the constitutional principle that war should only be declared though an act by Congress.
The CPAC interviewer at one point asked him if his “naturally curly hair was the greatest attribute the good Lord could give anyone,” which was kind of an odd question.
5. Is Santorum a 2016 contender?
Conservatives love Rick Santorum, his family, and his policies — and even loved him enough to propel his unlikely rise in the primaries against Gov. Mitt Romney in the 2012 race. There was a bit of a disconnect, however, when he spent a portion of his speech remembering the good ol’ days. He also entered and exited the event with “Game On,” a fan-written song for his campaign.
During his speech, Santorum spent most his time reviving talking points from his 2012 campaign, reminding activists about the importance of focusing on the working man and the looming importance of a tough foreign policy.
Arguing for an “experienced” foreign policy candidate for president, Santorum hinted that his record made him qualified, pointing to his service in the Senate during the George W. Bush era.
Santorum also spoke right after Paul, causing the younger, more libertarian-aligned members of the audience to leave the room hastily.
It might be time for Santorum to stop trying to be a presidential hopeful and start moving to the role of senior statesman.
6. Duck Dynasty Brings Cultural War To Washington
As a recipient of the Andrew Breitbart freedom award, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson brought a bunch of patriotic God-loving quotes from the founding fathers, as well as what looked like a duct-taped family bible to read to the audience.
The ballroom was the fullest it had ever been, as more moderate Republicans and reporters waiting for Bush shifted uncomfortably in their seats as he offered some advice about morality, marriage, sex, and HIV.
“When is the last time you heard a politician say ‘I love you?’” wondered Robertson. It was a good question, but I didn’t hear any of the politicians who spoke afterwards pick up on the theme. Be sure to read Breitbart’s Robert Wilde on the event.