The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is one-stop shopping for presidential candidates. It’s the one time every year that they can guarantee themselves the attention of more movement conservatives than at any other single gathering.
For years, Sen. John McCain has been noticeable by his absence. This year he’s not only coming, his campaign has bought a display booth in the exhibition hall.
McCain will address the conference on Thursday at 3 pm. He’ll follow Gov. Mitt Romney who will speak at 12:30pm. (Cong. Ron Paul is scheduled for 4:30 pm. Only Gov. Mike Huckabee hasn’t yet told CPAC he’d be there.)
McCain’s absence in earlier years is probably explainable by his attitude towards conservatives, which they have reflected right back at him. John McCain blew off CPAC last year. He came in last in the Presidential Straw Poll with only 12%. Mitt Romney came in first with 21%. McCain’s name was actually booed by the crowd of conservatives at several moments during the three-day program.
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, host of CPAC since 1974 said “McCain hasn’t been [to CPAC] in many, many years. We always invite all the candidates. And few days before the Florida primary or right after South Carolina his campaign contacted us to buy a booth, and then they came back and said they wanted to come.”
Keene added, “[McCain] did not come last year, and there was a little bit of a flap about that. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t make it — it was that they dismissed CPAC as irrelevant. His campaign said that he didn’t have to come talk to conservatives because every conservative knew he was a conservative.”
Primary exit poll results thus far have disproved that idea, clearly explaining his rush to take a prominent place at CPAC this year two days after Super Tuesday.
“He and people around him know that he has serious problems with movement conservatives for a whole lot of reasons. I think that this maybe his first step in trying to heal some of these wounds,” Keene said.
Will his several years of dismissing the largest gathering of conservatives be forgotten? Keene says no, “He’s not going to get conservatives on board with one speech, that’s not going to happen.”
Last year McCain also missed the National Review Institute Conservative Summit and Heritage Foundation’s Conservative Members Retreat. He also turned down an invitation to speak at a Club for Growth conference. McCain did however appear on the Late Night show with David Letterman during the week of last year’s CPAC.
An attendance record report card on key conservative events that circulated last year read: “They keep telling me he’s a proud student of conservatism but he seems to miss all of his classes.”
John McCain, just like the French: he’s always there when he needs us.