I wanted to share some takeaways now that I’m back in Iowa after spending several days at CPAC 2015 in National Harbor, MD.
1. The CPAC Straw Poll is meaningless. This is not to slight fans of U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) or to the Senator. Yes Paul won another CPAC straw poll, but the simple fact is when 42% of your attendees are college students the results are going to be skewed. Actual polls shows that he is running strong, but to think he’s somehow going to dominate based on a straw poll weighed down with college students is ridiculous. To be fair most straw polls are meaningless.
2. Scott Walker had a strong CPAC appearance and cast himself as a champion of hard working taxpayers. Walker who came in 2nd in the CPAC straw poll did so without significant organization driving it. He has been impressive at recent event appearances even if some of his interviews have left a lot to be desired. His handling of a heckler during his speech was impressive. He said, “those voices can’t drown out the voices of hard-working taxpayers.” That statement drew applause.
3. Common Core took center stage – literally. Unlike last year Common Core was brought up often. Jindal called for its repeal. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said it wasn’t enough to say you are against Common Core, but what have you done to fight it? “Back in 2012, I wasn’t for Common Core. And today, I’m still not for Common Core,” Rick Santorum said during his speech. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and Ben Carson addressed it after being asked during Q&A sessions. There was a panel discussion on the main stage with Emmett McGroarty of American Principles Project and Neal McClusky from the Cato Institute.
4. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was the only candidate to be loudly booed by the audience and was met with an organized walk out. This happened in spite of reports of his campaign busing in supporters with one-day passes. Mainstream media have indicated that he somehow survived the ordeal, but from my perspective it was pretty brutal and would have been a lot worse had he did not have an organized attempt to fill seats.
5. Sean Hannity let Bush off the hook on Common Core by allowing the conversation to be focused on just the Federal involvement. This is probably due to Hannity not having a good grasp on the issue, but focusing your attention on the federal involvement in Common Core is a softball question for Republican governors who support it. It allows them to blame President Obama. Instead he needed to be asked why it was ok with him for these standards to be adopted without state legislative approval. He needed to be asked what data he had to back up his claims that Common Core is rigorous and will help prepare students for colleges and careers, etc.
6. Adding Q&A at the end of prospective candidates speeches was a great addition. I do have to ask why Christie and Bush did not give any speech, and why did they only take questions from Ingraham and Hannity? It seems as though there was just a little disparity. Their Q&A time should have been handled the same as everyone else.
7. Ben Carson’s statement that he wants to get rid of dependency, not welfare programs is language other candidates should adopt. Carson said, “I am not interested in getting rid of the safety net, I’m interested in getting rid of dependency.” Both Carson and Santorum (who is crafting his message toward “blue collar conservatives”) could provide some lessons for the rest of the field about how you can broaden your base with the language you use, not just by giving up conservative principles.
8. Carly Fiorina takes aim at Hillary Clinton. The former Hewett-Packard CEO has set her sights on Hillary Clinton. “Like Mrs. Clinton, I too have traveled the globe,” Fiorina said. “Unlike Mrs. Clinton, I know that flying is an activity, not an accomplishment. I have met Vladimir Putin, and I know that his ambition will not be deterred by a gimmicky red reset button.”
9. The war on terror will have a renewed focus in 2016. Almost every prospective candidate address the threat of ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism. Jindal stated that ISIS fighters needed to be “hunted down and killed.” “We don’t need a war on international poverty, we need a war on the evil radical Islamic terrorism,” Jindal said. Rick Santorum called for boots on the ground to fight ISIS.
10. Contrasting immigration positions were evident, but all want to close the border. Even prospective candidates who have pushed or immigration reform in the past. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said his previous support of the Gang of 12 immigration bill was wrong. Bush said he wants a secure border..