National Review kicked off its conservative summit tonight before a very full house. I’ll see if I can get an official head count tomorrow, but in the meantime I can report that the ballroom for tonight’s session was packed. Before and after the session, I had the pleasure of meeting a good number of Power Line readers, and hope to meet more as the weekend progresses.
At the end of the cocktail hour, National Review honored John Bolton. In his brief remarks, Bolton noted that his first active political campaign was Barry Goldwater’s effort in 1964, and that he was intern in Spiro Agnew’s office during the last year of the Agnew vice presidency. Thus, he brings valuable perspective to the current conservative predicament.
That predicament was the topic of tonight’s free-wheeling panel discussion moderated by Kathryn Lopez and featuring Kate O’Beirne, Mona Charen, Laura Ingraham, and Michelle Malkin (whom I’ll refer to throughout as Michelle, since I know her better than I do the others). Opinion on President Bush’s state of the union address was uniform — good on Iraq and the war on terror; bad on immigration. However, there was disagreement about James Webb’s response. Ingraham was very impressed, noting that the Dems finally have someone who can both talk comfortably about the military and appeal to the “little guy.” By contrast, she feels that Republicans are once again talking to the country clubbers. Ingraham sees the selection of Webb to respond as evidence that the Dems are learning. But Charen saw it only as evidence that there’s one Dem with testosterone. The party will be defined by its presidential nominee, and it won’t be Webb, she said.
Who will it be? Ingraham thinks that, as usual, anyone who bets against a Clinton does so at his or her peril. She believes that Hillary has learned from her mistakes and will be very formidable. O’Beirne disagreed. In her opinion, there are some things that Hillary can’t change and some things Bill has that she lacks — authenticity, for example (I might have said the ability to fake authenticy). She sees a real appetite among the Dems for someone other than Hillary, and believes that Obama may be another smooth talking charmer who is about to ruin Hillary’s life. Charen, though, thinks Obama is likely to fizzle.
What about on our side? Ingraham sees McCain as the front-runner and Romney as “interesting.” She thinks it’s too early to make more definitive judgments. O’Beirne believes that Gingrich has strong support among the rank-and-file, but no one disagreed with Ingraham’s assessment that Newt probably can’t afford to wait until the fall to join the race.
Michelle reported that her trip to Iraq had failed to confirm the pessimism she was starting to feel. She found strong support for the war among the troops she met who, she said, are not ready to come home yet. Everyone agreed that President Bush has done a very poor job of explaining and defending the war. Lopez asked Michelle what the new media can do on this front. Michelle responded, pay more attention to military bloggers.
There was a strong sense of resentment against the party congresssional establishment and leadership among both the panelists and those who asked questions. The prevailing sentiment, as one might expect at a conservative summit, is that Republicans need to be more conservative, and that conservatives need to be more aggressive. There was some tension, I thought, between Ingraham’s praise for the Dems for finally learning to present themselves as less avowedly liberal, and her call for Republicans to present themselves as more avowedly conservative. One can view this as the difference between a party that’s been in the wilderness for a while and a party that may (or may not) be entering the wilderness.
But Ingraham argued that Republicans can regain their appeal without compromising their conservatism if, following the Reagan example, they keep their focus on “the little guy” and avoid a “gloom and doom” message. The “conservative mantle,” she said, is there to be had by the person who figures out and executes this.
An interesting yardstick by which to measure the rest of the summit, particularly the potential presidential candidates who will be appearing.
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