Landed at BWI last night and took the light rail to my brother’s apartment near the city center. This morning we took the train to DC and then hopped on the subway to the Mariott-Woodley Park where this year’s conference is being held. For years, CPAC has meant going to the Omni Shoreham Hotel, so things felt a little different this year, but the Mariott is actually located less than a block or two away and the facilities seem well suited to the event.
Congressman Mike Pence (R-Indiana) spoke at 11am EST this morning, and I must say that he was very well received by a large crowd that filled the main conference hall for his remarks. I’m biased of course – I’ve been a huge Pence fan for several years – but in substance and style he appeared the spokesman and statesman that conservatism so desperately needs right now. He is not a man of passion, principle or pragmatism alone, but seems to combine these three traits vital to a political leader.
Pence, the House Republican Conference Chairman, delivered a message that was echoed in part by some of the day’s other speakers, but what set him apart was his energy, humor and sense of timing. Striking an optimistic note about midterm Republican prospects, he underscored the importance of achieving not merely a partisan but a conservative congressional majority.
Several times, Pence signaled the need for movement conservatism to embrace optimism and civility in its attempts to influence society and government. He urged activists to elevate the “happy warriors” and joked that “I’m a conservative, but I’m in a good mood about it.” The remarks were tactful and gentle but very much a word of advice to avoid being consumed by unchecked or indiscriminate anger that risks undermining the Right. He also made a good-natured and light-hearted joke at the expense of Fox News, which may seem counterintuitive at CPAC but actually served as a savvy demonstration of the speaker’s realism, humility, awareness and media acumen.
Pence was the highlight for me, but the rest of the day was good. From a distance I spotted Brett Dinkins, outgoing president of the University of Missouri College Republicans; I also heard that Eric Hobbs, who I believe is doing some work for The Missouri Record, is also at the event, along with a number of other MU College Republicans (Hobbs recently completed his political science degree from MU). One student from Saint Louis University spoke on a panel today about successful campus activism.
Speaking of Missourians, John Ashcroft spoke this afternoon. The nation’s former attorney general said he rejects the notion of a trade-off between liberty and security, and defended the Bush administration’s approach and record on terrorism related issues while criticizing the current administration for its softness on the matter – specifically, granting civilian trials to terrorist operatives and generally refusing to call the greater conflict what it is. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but while I agreed with much of his comments, the speech was not as strong as it could have been. It was long on rhetoric and he seemed a bit disorganized or detached. I know he was also speaking at Missouri Lincoln Days this weekend so maybe he was more focused on that event.
I’ll leave it at that for now, but hope to be back on tomorrow with some more updates.