The Conservative Political Action Conference will be in full swing again tomorrow, but here are some observations from day one.
1. Format Change
In years past, the speaking lineup was huge – as Republican members of Congress filed one by one onto the stage to spout conservative applause lines for the audience. Thursday was usually the day for active members of Congress, while they were still in Washington, to make a big speech.
Opening up the speeches to audience participation offers a different tone and some of the speakers are held to a more interview-style event. With four big speaking events – Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and Ben Carson – participants were given more time to explore the conference, meet with people or attend the activism panels.
During the first day of the conference, there was no sign of Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, or even longtime conservative favorite Rep. Paul Ryan.
2: Chris Christie: I am not an elite
New Jersey’s governor took the stage with none other than conservative talk radio star Laura Ingraham – who made headlines last year after leading the primary charge against former Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Ingraham was a tough interviewer – at one point bluntly asking Christie why was he at the bottom of the polls for 2016. Christie’s argument that he was also never supposed to win his governor’s races as a Republican candidate in New Jersey but succeeded. More importantly, Christie argued that Jeb Bush was the candidate of the elite and the Bush dynasty, while he was a man of the people and the working American.
Ingraham pressed Christie on immigration – at one point asking if he would follow Jeb Bush’s argument in favor of immigration. Christie argued that it was more important to focus on the American people first and the American worker.
3: Prime Time Scott Walker
If there is one candidate that people wanted to see today, it was Scott Walker. The room was packed for the Wisconsin governor who reminded attendees of his record of conservative reforms in his state. While candidates such as Sen. Ted Cruz won loud applause for vowing to end the I.R.S., Walker pointed to actual results in his state where he brought down property taxes for Wisconsin families.
Throughout his speech and the Q&A portion, he routinely brought the issues back to his record of results, his own family, and his ability to beat the left in a blue state.
He not only had a pro-union activist attack him during his speech, but at one point he had the crowd shouting “Run Scott Run!”
4: Return of the War on Terror
One of the biggest applause lines from all the speakers today was the promise to defeat ISIS and kill terrorists. Even candidates who were not experienced foreign policy experts like Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina took up warlike applause lines which were well received by the audience here.
Tomorrow’s conference will be an interesting contrast: foreign policy hawks Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) will speak before non-interventionist Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) later in the day.
5: Ben Carson
Arriving this morning early for Ben Carson’s speech, his supporters swarmed the conference handing out stickers, buttons, signs and information about the popular grass roots candidate.
Organizers for the Draft Ben Carson committee said that they had over one hundred activists at the conference – predicting a strong showing for their favored potential candidate in this year’s straw poll.
6. Ted Cruz Is Here To Party
Sen. Ted Cruz is here in force. Not only does his have big groups of supporters who attended his wildly received speech, he is attending several events during the conference.
Volunteers passed out a special “Ted Cruz” schedule for CPAC for anyone looking for an opportunity to meet the Senator.
In spite of his public schedule, Cruz frequently stops by unannounced at some of the CPAC parties after hours, snapping photos with supporters and listening to their questions and concerns.
7. Sarah Palin is here to stay
In spite of negative reviews from the mainstream media about Palin’s Iowa speech, the former Alaska governor delivered a well attended speech at the end of the conference that was well received in spite of the late timing.
Palin focused a majority of her speech on talking about defeating ISIS “savages,” criticizing President Obama for being weak on the fight against evil.