The annual CPAC Conference held at the National Harbor waterfront development along the Potomac River’s eastern bank featured a high profile straw poll for the Republican presidential nomination and plenty of speeches by probable candidates (and more than a few panel discussions I unintentionally slept through).
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the event was the exchange of the first jabs of the 2016 nomination fight.
The Jeb Sit In: Headlined on the Drudge Report and circulated amongst the attendees, a “walk out” was attempted during an appearance by former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Partisans of the presidential son/brother sporting red and white “Jeb ‘16” lapel stickers tried to pack the room in advance of his remarks as media positioned themselves to capture the great exodus, something not unprecedented at CPAC as former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld and ex-Vice President Dick Cheney had their speeches disrupted by exiting Ron Paul supporters.
As scribes salivated in the media pen, the yellow Gadsden Flag was raised by an attendee attired in full Revolutionary War uniform just as Jeb took the stage, though to the protestors’ chagrin only a trickle of folks walked out, estimated to be no more than 60 in a room with several thousand people.
Rather than deliver a speech from the podium, Bush did a standing interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, who mostly lobbed softball questions that the likely White House candidate used to put his positions in a conservative context.
How to Not Get Booed at CPAC: New Jersey governor Chris Christie was snubbed from the conference in 2013 for criticizing Republicans in Congress over the stalling of a Hurricane Sandy relief bill. A favorite target of conservative talk radio show hosts, Christie’s credentials as a conservative have been questioned regularly. However Christie had a sure-fire way of not getting heckled while appearing on the dais by walking out with Laura Ingraham, who conducted a pointed sit down interview with the governor.
Christie peppered his remarks with snipes at the New York Times, joking that he was giving up the periodical for Lent, and defended his record as a pro-life, conservative governor in a deep blue state.
When questioned by Ingraham about his falling poll numbers for the GOP presidential nod, Christie rhetorically asked if the election was next week and retorted that at a similar mark in the 2008 race, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton were leading in the polls. Christie also took a swing at Bush, claiming that if the party establishment has its way, the Florida governor will be the nominee. As the two share a similar financial and voter base, expect Christie to focus his fire on Jeb as the Christie presidential candidacy matures.
Christie’s interviewer got in some punches at Jeb’s expense during a stand-alone address to the conference mocking that he and Hillary should form the “ClUsh 2016” ticket and for his suggestion that the deserted major city of Detroit be repopulated with immigrants.
Early Morning Lecture by the Professor: Former House speaker Newt Gingrich focused his Friday morning address on foreign policy, slamming the Obama Administration for disrespecting Benjamin Netanyahu, warning about the Islamist “social activist wing” seeking to achieve their agenda through non-violent means and the penetration of funds from Middle East dictatorships into universities, policy crafting entities and the Clinton Foundation.
Standing for Walker: The Wisconsin governor received an immediate standing ovation upon taking the stage. Sans jacket and with his sleeves rolled up, the bete noire of unions touted job growth and the passage of voter identification laws during his tenure in Madison and bragged on his ability to “fight and win”, touting his political success in a state a Republican presidential candidate hasn’t carried since 1984.
Low Person on the Totem Pole: Not long ago, House Speaker John Boehner spoke at CPAC though on this occasion the highest ranking member of Congress to address the conservative gathering was Washington State US Representative and House Republican Conference chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who spoke on Saturday afternoon after most of the attendees had left. The fight over the “clean bill” funding of the Department of Homeland Security likely kept higher ranking members of Congress away.
Overdue Parting Words: Radio talk show host Mark Levin opened up the Saturday morning session with “rhetorical strong coffee”, spending the first half of his speech tearing into the Obama Administration before stating that he needed to stop so he can move on to his criticisms of the Republicans, poking at Jeb’s looming presidential candidacy declaring “the only dynasty I like is Duck”.
Levin went well over his time and a large screen that timed speeches went from flashing the words “Begin Wrapping Up” to “Wrap Up Now”.
In contrast to other CPAC speakers, the notoriously reclusive Levin spent time visiting with attendees, signing books and shaking hands before returning to the confines of his “underground bunker”.