Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) Speaking at CPAC on 3/6/14.

(Alexandria, VA) Killing some time before my flight back home sitting in a coffee shop in Old Town Alexandria I thought I’d share some thoughts about my very first trip to CPAC.

  • I was disappointed that there was not a panel on the abortion issue.  Totally ignoring social issues is not the way forward especially if conservatives in particular and Republicans in general want to reach out to minority voters.  That said there were a number of speakers who addressed the issue – Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin all did that I can remember off the top of my head.  I was glad to see groups like Live Action and National Right to Life there regardless.  We can’t force as an issue if we don’t show up.
  • Carson, Huckabee and Santorum were the only (main) speakers who addressed the marriage issue.  If GOP Proud was there at CPAC they were largely silent and hardly discussed.
  • Props to New York State Senator Lee Zeldin to be the only person to go after the Common Core at the main stage. The Common Core break out that the Heritage Foundation hosted was well done.

  • Unless you already knew people at CPAC it provided little opportunity for networking.  I say that as an introvert.  I know some may not realize that I am, but it’s not easy to for me to just go up to random strangers (unless I’m looking for a quote for a story).  Some opportunities to facilitate that would have been helpful in smaller groups.  I think Americans for Prosperity does a better job with their conferences trying to facilitate this.
  • I was personally disappointed by the lack of media avails from speakers.  Senator Ted Cruz is the only one who reached out to bloggers and held a briefing.  American Conservative Union could possibly have helped with that, but considering I didn’t have my media credentials approved until two days before didn’t give me much confidence.
  • The CPAC straw poll is an utterly worthless indicator of how a potential candidate will do in 2016, but then again most straw polls are.  Perhaps if 46% of those who did the straw poll were not under the age of 25 I’d put more stock in it.  I also think those who speak on the last day are at a disadvantage.  But the fact Rand Paul won the straw poll with 31% came at no surprise.
  • Being an Iowan I find it amusing how politicians are ogled by conference attendees.  Sorry I’m not going to wait in line or purchase a premium ticket to try to meet a candidate when I can go up and talk to them in a coffee shop in Iowa or sit down with them for an interview.  I know I’m spoiled and I have set expectations like not endorsing even Presidential candidates that I have not had the opportunity to interview.  Don’t believe me?  Ask Rick Perry’s 2012 campaign staff.
  • The only truly painful speech to watch was Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY).  It was evident to me that the audience did not want him there.  I doubt he even wanted to be there.  Congressman Paul Ryan’s speech was ok, but no inspiring, but his speeches really never are.  I didn’t even take time to listen to Donald Trump – I just can’t take him seriously since he’s been all over the map.  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s speech was ok.  I agree with him when he said Republicans needed to put forward a positive message about what they are for.  Totally agree with that.  I also understand that Republicans need to win in order to govern.  I just look at what his governing as meant for New Jersey.  I understand it’s a blue state, but I don’t see that much in the form of accomplishments that really inspire me.  I also don’t think he’s the type of candidate I want to advance at the national level.  I’m also disappointed by those who dismiss the scandal he’s involved with because “it isn’t as bad” as what President Obama has been involved in.  Sorry we need a higher standard than that.
  • Top four speeches in terms of energy: Sarah Palin, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Perry.
  • Top three in terms of crowd energy (and size): Rand Paul, Sarah Palin, and Ben Carson.
  • Rick Perry gave the best speech I have heard him give.  He made a great case for federalism and has the record to back it up.
  • Marco Rubio’s speech had the best foreign policy content, in my opinion.
  • Painting a way forward award goes to Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum.  Cruz outlined several steps for reaching younger voters.  Santorum’s remarks on messaging to working Americans is something that all candidates should take note.
  • Rallying the troops: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin.
  • All in all the speeches were just good.  I typically am not impressed with them only because I hear so many of them.  The two that really stick out to me were Palin’s because she was fiery, connected well with the audience and it had enough snark.  It was classic Palin and the audience loved it.  She did a great job rallying the troops and going after Obama.  I thought it was interesting that she probably have props to more potential candidates than anyone else and that is where she is most dangerous (and underrated by the establishment) is her ability to rally people around different candidates.  Perry’s sticks out in my mind because of the passion he showed.  It was a far cry from what I saw in 2012.  Huckabee showed at CPAC that he just has the ability to connect and engage with his audience.  He is a terrific speaker.  Rand Paul gave a good speech, but what he lacks in energy (he really isn’t the best speaker) he makes up for in content and then helped along with crowd enthusiasm.
What did you think?

Photo credit: Dave Davidson – 

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