I skipped town before they revealed the results of the annual CPAC straw poll, though I’d dutifully navigated the main hallway through the ten or so lines of bright-eyed college students looking to leave their mark on the tradition by skewing the results toward Rand Paul. Putting the straw poll outpost perpendicular to the waves of people flooding out of CPAC’s main ballroom had the twin effects of inciting a maddening claustrophobia among the crowds (thus, perhaps, encouraging alcohol consumption at the nightly parties), and making everyone hate the concept of trading free t-shirts for a moment of publicity everyone sloughs off anyway.
They predicted that the crowd would be so fed up with Jeb Bush that they’d exit his question and answer period en masse right in the middle, but the only person who was even remotely exasperated about having to spend more than 20 minutes with Jeb Bush seemed to be Jeb Bush.
More than an hour ahead of his appearance, pro- and anti-Jeb forces amassed in the ballroom, staking out chairs and spots along the wall, the pro-Jebbers wearing bright orange “JEB!” stickers, the anti-’s mostly sporting Stand With Rand posters and an aggravated look. Both sides’ anger and excitement were temporarily muted by Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, who received the Breitbart Freedom of Speech Award and then gave a lengthy acceptance speech that featured a detailed look at the spread of sexually transmitted infections (specifically genital herpes) and several long quotes from the Founding Fathers. Then, having reassessed their sexual habits, the audience girded their loins for the latest Bush brother who emerged in a full suit to Bruno Mars’ "Uptown Funk."
As the conference has gone on, the potential candidates have gotten increasingly casual. Thursday morning, they were wearing jackets. Thursday afternoon, they were in shirtsleeves. Today, Rand Paul, fresh off a vote on the Hill, showed up wearing jeans. If this conference went on for another couple of days, they’d be presenting naked. And frankly, I’m glad that's not going to happen.
Sen. Rand Paul was by far the most hotly anticipated of the speakers, mostly because kids have jammed themselves like sardines into his “Stand With Rand” booth, and are antsy after having to sit through a presentation by a former NSA director and then a John Bolton lecture. Rand Paul started with a quote that sounds like he’s penning the Declaration of Independence himself, all over again. The Tri-corner hat guy is nowhere to be found, but if he were in the room, he’d be impressed:
Lovers of Liberty must rise and stand with our forefathers who stared down the king. We must rise as free men and women and reclaim our birthright. We must protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Rick Perry is far better at mornings than I am. Rick Perry might be better at mornings than almost anyone.
This morning’s round of Presidential contenders featured the Texas governor and Sen. Marco Rubio, but where Rubio was steadfast and eminently relatable, Rick Perry was electric, energizing the tired audience with his trademark Texas-sized personality and his brand new hipster glasses. Being governor of Texas, after all, is like being the Prime Minister of a moderately-sized European country and Rick’s experience is the hallmark of his argument for support.
Like most of yesterday’s potential candidates, Perry hit on economics, particularly as it pertains to the working class, and the President’s inability to execute a strong foreign policy, even in comparison to less typically mighty nations:
Egypt and Jordan recognize that they are at war with radical Islam, isn't it about time that our president proclaimed the same? We didn't start this war, nor did choose it, but we will have will to finish it.
Before I start into her speech, let me just say that Palin, as a person, is unfailingly nice. So nice, in fact, that last night, she spent close to an hour in the hotel’s lobby bar taking selfies with college Republicans and shaking hands. She even took a photo with yours truly. And we need more people in the movement who are unfailingly nice. Because in this ridiculous line of work, literally no one is unfailingly nice.
To my great surprise — yes, I’ll admit it — Sarah Palin’s speech was not about Sarah Palin. She was tasked by CPAC to talk about veterans, and that’s what she did. As the mother of a veteran who has served in Iraq, she was well placed to give the address, and given a subject to talk about — a purpose — she did well, showing why she’s still important to the conservative movement, even if she’s long since passed out of political relevance.
Scott Walker is a folk hero. Walking out without much fanfare, he took the stage with his sleeves rolled up and started talking about the Founding Fathers. It’s a tent revival.
And that makes sense. Scott Walker is headlining the Great American Revival, a plan to create more jobs, more opportunity, and, possibly, more speaking engagements that don’t require suit jackets. He has a profile for a leader that American needs and he’s certainly going to tell you about it. Because according to Governor Walker, he’s earned the ability to gloat a little, and given the response, I’m not sure anyone in the room would disagree.
Walker’s speech is not very different from the other speeches we’ve heard throughout the day: he focused on the middle class, he excoriated the Obama Administration for their lack of propriety in the arena of foreign affairs, and he outlined what he believes the Obama Administration is doing to destroy America. But unlike the other speeches we’ve heard today, Walker’s is a campaign stump speech complete with lines that are destined to follow him throughout his potential candidacy like:
Greetings from Maryland where I’m attending the Conservative Political Action Conference so that you don't have to. While we are only in the early hours of the conference, I have already seen more articles of clothing fashioned from the American flag than I thought were humanly possible. There is a man here with a pair of MC Hammer-style pants, decorated with the Stars and Stripes, that would strike fear into the heart of any of America’s enemies. Beyond red, white and blue attire, the most prominent trends at this year’s essential gathering of conservatives are Duck Dynasty beards that could comfortably house a squirrel family of four and really, really inappropriate shoes.
On Friday, Senator Rand Paul gave a rousing speech at CPAC in which he repudiated almost the entire Republican foreign policy of the aughts, attacking unlimited government surveillance and calling for a new emphasis on civil liberties. On Saturday, he won the CPAC straw poll.
Few politicians have engendered such a philosophical shift as Paul, whose filibuster alone completely rewrote public opinion on drones. But the decisiveness of that shift can mask the fact that the details of Paul’s foreign policy, while not indecisive, are tough to nail down. Paul knows there’s a golden mean between the extremes of neoconservatism and isolationism, but he often sounds like he’s still searching for it.
Two days after calling for a less hawkish foreign policy at CPAC, Paul released this op-ed in Time magazine:
Sarah Palin delivered CPAC’s keynote speech on Saturday with wit and feisty charm that ignited the conservatives in the crowd.
Palin had no reservations about attacking Obama and his administration, jabbing at Obamacare, the NSA, and particularly the so-called war on women.
“We know better than to fall for that victimization line,” she said. “But if you have a sister or a friend, you have to set them straight. They entice girls to think they need guys to grow government. That’s not liberation; that’s subjugation.”
Displaying a copy of Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham, Palin changed the words and delivered lines like “I do not like this health care plan.”
She also wasn’t afraid to mock Obama's foreign policy strategy: “Vladimir…I’ve got a phone and I’ve got a pen…I can poke you with my pen – pinkie promise!”
One conservative criticism of our current education policy is that a one-size-fits-all plan is unrealistic. With Common Core and No Child Left Behind pushing the education status quo, efforts in policy reform should be taken to develop more diverse options for students.
There are four million jobs vacant today in America. We need to prepare our adult learners to fill those jobs…every child doesn’t want to go to college…we should have a dual track, one for college, and one for the skills necessary to fill the four million vacancies we have today in America.
As college tuition continues to increase and there are fewer available jobs commensurate to the cost of the degree, students should benefit from alternative tracks.