April is going to be quite the month for presidential campaigns.
Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Hillary Clinton are almost certainly launching their White House bids in the weeks to come, and Ted Cruz is already ahead of the game.
Democrats are poised to have the least competitive primary in my lifetime (even if Hillary somehow doesn’t run, the fact that Martin O’Malley is a serious contender at all speaks volumes about the depth of their field).
With that in mind, I thought there would be no better time for me to finally write up some of the thoughts I had after attending my third CPAC this past year.
Unfortunately, I missed the first day, so I didn’t actually get the chance to see several of the higher profile speakers, but hopefully there will be some insight in what follows that wasn’t reported elsewhere.
One of the most interesting things was to see how the less prominent presidential candidates were received (of course, almost no one has announced, but it’s pretty clear to see who is leaning towards running).
The candidate with the largest entourage was unequivocally Carly Fiorina.
I had wanted to go to one of the smaller breakout sessions one of the days to hear her speak in person. I was far from the only one, and I wasn’t even able to get in to the standing only room. When I saw her walking around after, she was followed by dozens of people, and someone with a video camera was filming what looks like a campaign video.
The other candidate (is that too strong a word?) who had an entourage was none other than Donald Trump. However, rather than have fans flanking him, he had a phalanx of bodyguards keeping people at arm’s length.
Other less prominent candidates include my former governor, Bob Ehrlich, as well as former UN Ambassador John Bolton, neither of whom had any massive details following them around.
On the side of the more prominent candidates, it wasn’t a shock to most to see Rand Paul win the annual straw poll (which he has now done three times in a row).
What amused me is that the second the winner was announced, a block of Paul supporters immediately started chanting “President Paul.”
During his speech itself, I was pleased to see I got a shoutout from a Washington Post reporter.
I was sitting in the back and couldn’t help but chuckle to myself, since that is something we will never see. However, it did show that his presence was clearly organized here.
All of this said, Paul’s showing was weaker than it seems, since Scott Walker actually came in an extremely close second when you tally people’s first and second choices.
The other important results from the poll mostly revolve around the lack of support that other candidates received.
Ben Carson, for example, came in fourth with around 11%. However, given the immense amount of money his campaign has to have spent (you could barely look around without seeing several people in a Carson shirt, ready to hand you literature), this is a pretty poor showing.
Fiorina actually got more votes than Chris Christie, but no one really expected him to do overly well here. At the convention two years ago, his gubernatorial primary opponent (yes, he had one) was here handing out literature against him.
No article about CPAC would be complete without mentioning Jeb Bush.
Most times when his name was mentioned, it was accompanied by boos from the audience, but his delivery itself was actually phenomenal, and I don’t recall a single audible boo at the end of it, and he aced the interview he did with Hannity on stage. It was clear to me that he allayed a lot of people’s concerns (in fact, I was speaking about this with many of my friends who had previously not been supportive in any way of his candidacy, and most seem willing to give him another shot).
It’s indisputable that his record as governor of Florida was conservative (indeed, I remember reading somewhere that he is regarded as the most conservative governor Florida has seen, and he also was the first Republican to be reelected in Florida history).
I can also attest to how the line to see him at an event set up by the College Republican National Committee was so crowded that an enormous amount of the crowd didn’t have the chance to get a picture with him (sadly, I was one who couldn’t get a picture).
The final lesson that couldn’t have been more obvious to me was to not give Phil Robertson unlimited time on the stage and no speech.
He was given almost 30 minutes to talk about…whatever he wanted. Watch the video for yourself (trust me, it’s worth the time) and see what you think. I will say that I was at the RNC when Clint Eastwood spoke to a chair, and this was far worse.
As a quick contrast, Scott Walker, one of the frontrunners to the Republican nomination, got 2/3rds of that time.
In conclusion, go to CPAC. Go to the smaller sessions, since you’ll get to learn about Net Neutrality, Russia, and just about anything else you can imagine. Just as importantly, you’ll also actually get to interact with the speakers, which you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.
Also, wear an American flag suit. Everyone will want to talk to you. Let’s just say I wasn’t expecting to have a picture of myself in the New York Times (but the feature in Politico definitely did make my day), or any other assorted news outlet.
As a bonus, for having made it this far, some quick thoughts I had on AIPAC, which began the day after CPAC are as follows.
Like CPAC, it was a ton of fun. The biggest event was, without a doubt, Bibi’s speech (my thoughts on that are here). Despite virtually every media outlet predicting that his visit to America would cost him the election in Israel, he arguably emerged stronger than ever (my thoughts on that are here).
The three major highlights are going to the annual get together AEPi has there now that I’m a brother, MEETING ELIE WIESEL, and blasting music at some anti-AIPAC press conference.
The latter deserves slightly more explanation. My friend and I were leaving for the day, and we were driving past people protesting AIPAC. They have every right to do so, but I also have every right to open my window and blast the radio while we wait for a green light. It was so much fun, we had to do it twice.
Of course, seeing Elie Wiesel in person was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.
Code Pink, knowing no bounds (what else would you expect?) briefly attempted to protest the event, but they were escorted out.
All in all, it was absolutely worth missing a couple of days of class for what was without a doubt one of the best weekends of the year.
So how does this all tie back into my original point about the upcoming presidential campaigns? The truth is, it doesn’t really, but I was busy enough in the weeks following this weekend to not actually have time to write this until now.