NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland–Here at CPAC, the speaker lineup got shuffled around to accommodate Sen. Rand Paul’s voting schedule in the Senate. That led to a big delay for a large group of young Jeb Bush supporters who arrived in time to boost their candidate’s CPAC speech.
Instead of Jeb Bush, who was expected to speak at 1:40 this afternoon, supporters found Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson on stage.
As the delay continued, the influx of Bush supporters wearing red “Jeb!” stickers thumbed through their smart phones and waited patiently in the ballroom aisles for their candidate. Many of the ballroom chairs weren’t filled, but they appeared willing to stay standing in groups.
In response, Bush fired off a blurry picture of his face backstage on Twitter to remind supporters he was still there.
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) February 27, 2015
But Bush and his influx of supporters would have to wait longer, through another speech, this one by the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre.
By the time Bush took the stage with Fox News host Sean Hannity, the Bush fans were wildly enthusiastic.
The Bush support crew cheered loudly during the interview-style event, which might have worked well for a speech, but it had the opposite effect as Bush tried to answer some of Hannity’s challenges to his conservative credentials.
Supporters cheered any mention of immigration reform, even Bush’s insistence on a path to legal status. That drew boos in the rest of the crowd, which were quickly silenced by supporters cheering and applading.
It was clear that Bush was prepared with a few quips for protesters.
“I know there’s disagreement here,” he said. “Some of these people are angry about this, and look I kind of feel their pain. I was in Miami this morning, it was 70 degrees,” he said as the cameras panned to the confused audience.
At another point, Bush acknowledged some booing in the crowd with a flash of sarcastic optimism.
“Well, first of all, for those who made a ooooh sound, was that what it was?” he asked, pretending not to acknowledge the booing. “I’m marking them down as neutral and I want to be your second choice,” he quipped.
When questioned by Hannity further on immigration, specifically referring to Bush’s “Act of Love” statement, Bush grew defensive.
“I wrote a book about this,” he said suggesting that opponents of his plan should actually read it before challenging him on the issue.
He then emphasized his support for secure borders as a solution. “Let’s do it man!” he said emphatically after Hannity questioned his support for border security.
As Hannity asked about his support for driver licenses for illegal immigrants when he was governor of Florida, Bush quickly responded: “Didn’t happen,” as he moved on to his defense of support for state education funding for illegal immigrants.
When asked specifically if he supported the plan to defund Obama’s executive actions on immigration reform, Bush shrugged off the question.
“I’m not an expert on the ways in Washington,” he said. “It makes no sense to me that we’re not funding control of our border which is the whole argument. I’m missing something. So I’m not an expert on that,” he said.
However, Bush positioned himself as an expert on the legal standing for Obama’s executive actions in the court system. “The courts are going to overrule that,” he said.
At another point in the event, Jeb blurted the word “Boxers” as Hannity prepared to ask a question, apparently referring to an MTV question to President Clinton in 1994. “That was not the question … I’ll leave that to NBC,” Hannity replied.
Bush also praised former failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney, hardly a line likely to win over conservative critics.
“Mitt Romney was right in the debate about Putin, and Mitt Romney was right about a lot of things,” he said, unprompted by Hannity.
After the speech, Bush hustled off to an private event held especially for his supporters and members of the media as he shook hands and posed for selfies.
Bush was introduced by Al Cardenas, the former Florida Republican state chairman. Cardenas, however, is also the former chairman of American Conservatives Union who received criticism for turning CPAC into an event to honor establishment Republicans.
The Jeb reception appeared to be exactly that, an old-era CPAC celebration of a moderate establishment candidate.
As he left, one reporter asked him about the CPAC attendees who were spotted leaving the room as he began to speak.
“The five people who walked out or the 5,000 that stayed?” he quipped in response.