It was another fun and exciting day at CPAC. We got to hear my two favorite Presidential contenders this afternoon. John Thune went first. He was well received by the crowd and showed the strength and firmness that make him a dark horse contender. Thune has said that he will decide by the end of the month whether to enter the Presidential race. It’s only a guess, but he certainly sounded today like someone who leans toward making the run. Here is an excerpt from his speech:
Leaving the hall after Thune’s speech, we were stopped by a film crew from Danish television. (For some reason, film crews seem to gravitate toward my wife and daughter.) The crew was friendly, but the interviewer tried to get us to admit that the country’s deficit problem 1) started under the Republicans, and 2) is largely due to the Bush-era tax cuts. I set him straight. What the Danes will make of it, in English or in translation, I have no idea.
Later in the afternoon, Tim Pawlenty addressed the CPAC crowd. He delivered the best speech I have ever seen him give. Pawlenty has a great record as Governor of Minnesota, but as a stump speaker he has had two weaknesses. He sometimes comes across as eager to please rather than commanding, and he likes to freelance. Pawlenty is an excellent, and very funny, extemporaneous speaker. But when he doesn’t follow a text, like anyone else he can lose focus.
Today Pawlenty had a text, and he knew it. He had obviously put a lot of work into his speech. He seemed to have a cold, which made his voice a little raspy. Paradoxically, it helped. The net effect was that Pawlenty was more aggressive, more focused and more effective than I have ever seen him. Here he is on federal spending:
The next speaker after Pawlenty was Ron Paul, and I had been a little concerned about how the audience, no doubt replete with Paul-bots, would receive Pawlenty. As it turned out, the CPAC crowd responded enthusiastically. There was a revealing moment near the end of Pawlenty’s speech, when he was talking about the need for strength in foreign policy. My camera didn’t pick it up very well, but a number of Paul-bots off to the left started cat-calling and booing Pawlenty’s call for a strong national defense. That caused the rest of the crowd–90 percent or more–to rise to its feet and cheer. The Minneapolis Star Tribune counted five standing ovations for Pawlenty; this was one of them:
We left the hall after Pawlenty’s speech, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked my opinion of it. Here is their video report:
The Strib’s print report is here.
In between Thune’s and Pawlenty’s speeches, we attended what may have been the day’s most fun event: a panel on student activism that featured around twenty students or recent graduates, each of whom talked for two or three minutes about his or her experiences on campus. The quality of these presentations was exceptional. One of the best was delivered by the daughter of one of my good college friends. It was great to see such fine representatives of the next generation of conservative leaders.
The media tend to pay a lot of attention to the CPAC straw poll, the results of which will be announced tomorrow afternoon. While I think the impression the candidates make here has some significance, mostly as a predictor of the success they are likely to have as the campaign gets underway, the vote itself is rather meaningless. Balloting closed before some of the potential candidates, including Tim Pawlenty and Haley Barbour, had even spoken. And the Paul-bot turnout inevitably distorts the results, much like many on-line polls in 2008. So, while the candidates’ performances were not without significance, I wouldn’t pay much attention to the straw poll.