Red-Hot Conservative Summit Occupies Deep-Blue D.C.
CPAC was in town, in case you didn’t notice, Thursday through Saturday. That’s the Conservative Political Action Conference to you, buddy. If you happened to live around the area of Calvert and Connecticut walking across the Duke Ellington Bridge to the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel on the hill near the Woodley Park Metro Station within the bluest part of the bluest city in the country, you might feel a little like Dorothy dropped on a Red Oz.
The hotel teemed with conservatives, many of them young people avidly waving banners, signs and placards, in every nook, coffeeshop, bar, room and speaking room. This was the 2012 gathering of the GOP which just by the look and sound of it was turning into the GOCP—the Grand Old Conservative Party.
Sponsored by the American Conservative Union, this gathering of the like-minded and right-minded happens yearly, just as a similar conference of young liberal types was held in this neighborhood last year with Bill Clinton a prominent guest.
But this year was different. The Republicans — that is, in this case, the conservatives — were in a fractious primary battle, with all of the candidates left standing making prominent and critical speeches. This was a party in flux, and just about every word spoken meant something because, well, it seemed the Florida primary had not locked things up for Mitt Romney, after all, and because almost immediately thereafter Rick Santorum won three electoral events in Missouri, Minnesota and, most surprising of all, Colorado, considered a safe bet for Romney.
The electoral dynamics provided a passionate backdrop for the conference, where red meat was the only thing on the menu. The other was President Barack Obama, who did the gathered conservatives a huge favor by igniting a needless furor by proposing that — per his health care plan—religious institutions and affiliates must provide insurance coverage for birth control for their employees. This incensed Catholics like the suddenly resurgent Santorum, the fundamentalist Mike Huckabee and the Mormon Romney, not to mention Newt Gingrich, who declared that Obama had declared war on religion in his must-impress speech late Friday afternoon.
Huckabee, in a speech early in the week, proving perhaps he has been hanging out with John McCain way too much, said “tonight, we are all Catholics,” a heretical notion coming from a man who obviously had never had to go to confession in his youth. “It’s not about contraception, it’s about freedom of religion, its about liberty and we won’t stand for it,” he said with great and impressive indignation.
Romney came into the conference still needing to prove that he is real conservative as opposed to a conservative-for-the-duration-of-the-primary-process. The Tea Party, which had its very own room there, along with a host of other groups including the National Rifle Association, still mistrust him like an old Irishman whose daughter has brought home an Italian for dinner.
So, Romney pulled up his sleeves and tried to do just that, in ways that you often don’t even hear conservatives talk.
Speaking in the main ballroom, Feb. 10, just before 1 p.m., Mitt Romney used the word "conservative" more than 20 times in his address, as in being "a severely conservative governor" in liberal Massachusetts. He was trying to convince the receptive audience as much as he was convincing himself. He noted he is the only candidate who has never worked a day in Washington. Romney's main target aws President Obama whom he said would be "easy to defeat." After all, Romney said, "Obama is the poster child for the arrogance of government."
"We should acknowledge President Obama, the conservative movement’s top recruiter. Turns out, he really is a great community organizer. Although I don’t think we were the community he had in mind. . . . I know this president will never get it, but we conservatives aren’t just proud to cling to our guns and to our religion. We are also proud to cling to our constitution."
"The Obama presidency as the last gasp of liberalism’s great failure and a turning point for a new conservative era," Romney continued. But it’s not enough to show how they have failed. We must prove we deserve to lead. " He then listed how his leadership would save America. And, as with the other candidates, he said his first act as president would be to "eliminate Obamacare."
Which, lest we forget, was once Romney Care. There might come a day that Romney will disavow ever having been a Massachusetts governor, if this race drags on. He might cheerfully, given his bank account, renounce being a Mormon.
While Romney got a very good reception and did win the CPAC straw poll (just barely beating Rick Santorum), a lot of the attendees said they want to believe that he is sincere but are not yet convinced. That surely includes Rick Santorum, who Sunday suggested that there might have been some cheating going on in the straw poll.
And that surely included Gingrich, who, introduced by his dazzling wife Callista (who he said would be taking on a much more active role in the campaign) and a thunderously martial music, promised to eliminate Obamacare—first thing—the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy on his first day in office or thereabouts. “What are our differences? We are either a country of food stamps or paychecks and I know what we prefer,” he said.
He said he would also set up American shop in Jerusalem by putting our embassy there, a sure-fire way to reassure Israel — maybe — and win the hearts and minds of Palestinians everywhere.
He declared his anti-establishment credentials — a rebel, he — and hinted that that Washington establishment he was fighting against was made up of some Republicans as well.
Yet the infighting and the negative campaigning that had characterized the whiplash primary process for the GOP was muted here. Obama always provides a better target when more than one conservative are together in the same room, let alone a hotel full of them.
Not when you’ve got Sarah herself in the house.
All sorts of conservative stalwarts were everywhere — Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Herman "9-9-9" Cain, whose candidacy is still on hold, actor Kirk Cameron, the right-wing blonde acid queens of the media Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter, former UN Ambassador John Bolton, Michele Bachmann, Andrew Breitbart and former Georgetowner columnist Grover Norquist.
Norquist, president of American for Tax Reform, gave a terse, pep-rally speech on specifics and numbers needed for conservatives (aka the GOP?) to take over the Senate and the White House. "The Left is made up of competing parasites," said the tax-pledge lobbyist as he explained that the agenda was set and all that was needed was the pen (President Romney's?) to sign the legislation.
But nobody does it better than Palin, whose propensity for red meat rhetoric has no equal now that Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) will be retiring.
The woman herself walked onto the main ballroom stage, and the crowd went nuts. Not surprisingly, Sarah Palin can fire them up and shot off her typical verbal missiles: "Not just red America or blue America, but red-white-and-blue America . . . and Obama we are through with you." "Hope and change? You better hope things change." "He mucked it up." "Win the future? W-T-F . . . I know," she gladly sneered.
A few minutes into Palin's speech, about eight protestors with the Occupy protestors yelled, "Mic check!" This is a so-called phrase for Occupy hecklers. The group was surrounded in seconds and whisked out of the ballroom. Upon hearing the noise, the audience thundered, "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!," as if they’d just beaten the Russians in hockey.
Palin continued on her roll. The Washington swamp should be declared a wetlands, she said. Thus, the EPA would slow its growth. "D.C.'s crony capitalism is the root of the problem," she said and imagined -- perhaps rightly -- that the Washington cesspool is a tempting hot tub for politicians, serving and retired. "Drain the jacuzzi," said Palin, as she ended her speech, which happened to be on her birthday, Feb. 11.
It appears that we haven’t heard the last of Mama Grizzly.
Or anybody else.
Outside, a woman with a Santorium poster saw a group of Washington Stage Guild members wave placards and shout, “We are the 99 percent.”
“That’s me, too, “ the woman said. Makes you almost think we’re not that far apart.