By Craig Robinson
Sarah Palin: Just when you start to think Palin’s time in the political spotlight has come and gone, she shows up to CPAC and brings down the house. Palin’s lunchtime address was the closest thing to Rush Limbaugh’s 2009 CPAC speech that has set the standard for keynote addresses. No offense to Senator Ted Cruz, but after watching a hundred speeches and listening to panelists talk about specific policies for three days, the keynote address needs to set the place on fire. Palin was brilliant and would have been better utilized as the keynote speaker who ended the event.
Senator Rand Paul: The Kentucky senator continues to do what his father could never accomplish – bring the libertarian movement into the mainstream of Republican politics. Paul’s speech invigorated attendees, and speaker after speaker heaped praise on him for the leadership he showed in recent weeks. It’s not just Paul’s congressional colleagues patting him on the back. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and NRA President David Keene dedicated a considerable amount of time in their speeches to praise him. Oh, and he also won the CPAC straw poll.
Governor Scott Walker: While Senators Paul and Cruz have been getting a lot of love from conservatives lately, one would be remiss to overlook Governor Walker as a real contender for the Republican nomination in 2016. Walker joked about having to run for election twice in one term, but the fact that he still stands is what separates him from the rest of the 2016 field. Walker has already withstood the scrutiny of a national election, and though the recall election wasn’t enjoyable, it has made him a national figure and a better politician. His 2013 CPAC speech showcased a confident governor with an impressive list of accomplishments that he can showcase if he chooses to run for president in 2016.
Senator Marco Rubio: The subject matter of Rubio’s speech got my attention immediately. I think most people expected Rubio to give a speech about what was going on in Washington, or maybe about the immigration reform that he’s been championing, but instead, Rubio laid out a speech that you would expect to hear from Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee. Perhaps the most interesting part of Rubio’s speech was his harsh criticism of China. CPAC speeches are all about positioning, and Rubio used his speech to position himself for 2016. Equally impressive was Rubio’s second place finish in the CPAC straw poll despite not having a political organization or movement turning out voters.
Dr. Ben Carson: When Dr. Ben Carson speaks, people not only listen, but they hang on his every word. The main hall at CPAC was at capacity when Carson took the stage, and it was electric in the room. Now here is the one thing you need to understand. Carson is a good speaker, but he is not eloquent, charming, and a dynamic speaker like Herman Cain was in the 2012 presidential race. What Carson has is a connection with the audience. He also offers a lot of common sense solutions which are easy to understand. Carson is so unique he’s hard to describe. He’s a brain surgeon with a little Steve Forbes and a dash of Herman Cain. In short, he’s a breath of fresh air. Keep an eye on him.
Senator John McCain: The “maverick” of the senate made a very bad decision when he castigated his Republican colleague Rand Paul on the floor of the senate last week. McCain’s attempt to ridicule Senator Paul and others backfired, and conservatives took it as a license to take the gloves off despite the fact that McCain is a war hero. The CPAC stage wasn’t kind to McCain. At one point, a panelist said that instead of “stuffing his fat face with Obama” he should have been in the senate chamber during the Paul filibuster. The criticism was harsh and widespread.
Karl Rove: Perhaps the only person despised as much as John McCain at CPAC was Karl Rove. Rove took a beating from a number of speakers and panelist over the news that part of his organization plans to work against some conservative candidates in 2014 primaries. Rove’s associate, Steven Law, participated in panel and said that they plan to support people like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, but nobody is really buying their attempt to distance themselves from their New York Times op-ed from a month or so ago.
Governor Bobbi Jindal: The Louisiana had a case of bad luck at CPAC when the program got severely off track on the day that he spoke. That meant a number of people who planned to watch him speak might not have stayed in the room to see him. Jindal also didn’t create any buzz from his CPAC experience.
Congressman Paul Ryan: People like Congressman Ryan well enough, but after being Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, one would have thought Ryan would have had a larger stature at an event like CPAC. Ryan has purposely set out be the GOP’s budget man, and while extremely important, that’s about as exciting as going to meet your accountant.
Jeb Bush: The dinner at which Bush spoke at was packed, but the former Governor of Florida was unable to create much buzz at the conference. His speech offered a perspective that deserves attention, but the CPAC crowd seemed more polite than interested.
On the Rebound:
Allen West: The former Florida Congressman may have lost his re-election bid, but he didn’t lose any passion. Just like Sarah Palin should have been the closer for the event, West should have been used to open the event instead of Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli. West was simply outstanding.
Newt Gingrich: Before running for president, Newt Gingrich walked to the CPAC stage through the crowd to the music of Eye of the Tiger. The former Speaker now takes to the stage like everyone else. While the pomp and circumstance is gone, Gingrich offered conservatives a vision they would be wise to follow. His speech was one of the best of the conference.
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