CPAC 2008: Rallying the Troops

“Half of all Illegal Immigrants have arrived since 9/11; which means, they broke into the country on Orange Alert.” — Mark Steyn, CPAC 2008

This year’s Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), organized by David Keene’s American Conservative Union (ACU), was the biggest ever. Over 6500 of the faithful descended on Washington to hear the voices of the conservative movement. One of the best things about the gathering is the number of students in attendance. If you worry that the conservative movement is an old boy network, you need only to go to CPAC to see the youth of the movement.

The meeting was marked by a roller coaster first day with the speech by Gov. Mitt Romney that ended with him suspending his campaign. Later in the day, Senator John McCain arrived as the presumptive nominee and did an adequate job speaking to conservatives and there will be some movement to the McCain camp, but not yet. Even in the final hours of the conference on Saturday — Gov. Mike Huckabee stood defiantly in the way of Senator John McCain and Mitt Romney won the straw poll among CPAC attendees. This group is not going quietly in the night.

So how do you bring the faithful along? You can’t have a campaign without troops on the ground and you need conservatives to organize the grassroots. Truth be told, Sen. McCain thinks he can do this without conservatives. But the movers and shakers of the conservative movement needed a boost and the gentle arm-twisting came in the form of columnists Bob Novak and George F. Will. These guys were the big guns with Novak speaking at Thursday’s dinner and Will speaking at Friday’s Reagan Banquet.

Bob Novak is a guy who sees the world and everything in it as half empty. He’s called the Prince of Darkness because he tells you the truth, even if you don’t want to hear it. On John McCain, he points out his ridiculous positions on Global Warming. As Mark Steyn said earlier in the day, the McCain’s of the world think we can’t secure the borders without so-called comprehensive amnesty but the “very heavens” we can control regarding Global Warming. Conservatives ought to have a sense of perspective. We can control the borders, but weather, it seems is out of our control. That’s the sensible way to approach it.

Novak also points out McCain’s weakness on Campaign Finance reform and free speech but then says that he has a good record on national security. Novak couches the argument this way — McCain is good on spending, taxes, national security and will appoint constructionist judges and that should be good enough for us, the crazy conservatives.

The second night, George F. Will, spoke to the group at the Ronald Reagan Banquet. In much the same way, Will pointed out that he has written many columns criticizing John McCain, but even with all his faults, he will be better than a democrat president with a democrat Congress. The most important argument that Will made was for the work that conservatives could do even with a McCain presidency. He made the point that conservatism is not just about who is in The White House and I think he made that point well.

So how did these big guns of conservative thought do? They made a few converts but more importantly, they framed the argument and moved people slightly. David Keene and the ACU had embraced early the candidacy of Gov. Mitt Romney as the conservative and with John McCain as the presumptive nominee, the conservatives need a leader. Whether Mitt Romney will be that leader, remains to be seen. I think he’s applied for the job.

Both of these speeches were made before Gov. Huckabee spoke unabashedly to the group and then won 2 out of 3 contests on Saturday. Alas for the Huckabee supporters, it’s mathematically impossible for Gov. Huckabee to win. But as the Governor says, he majored in miracles not math. His domination on Saturday proves that conservative voters are the majority in Republican primary contests. Maybe John McCain will make nice and see the error of his conservative loathing ways.

The big question is will the Conservative movement follow John McCain. Some progress was made on that front. It’s clear that an Obama or Clinton presidency with a democrat controlled legislative branch will be terrible for conservative principles. I think most conservatives will move toward John McCain but they are not there yet. Ultimately, it will be about judges and immigration. On judges, McCain and the base are in unity. However, the bell weather will be on immigration. If the elites, like Novak and Will, continue to discredit the overwhelming sentiment in this country to secure the borders first, they will drive the base away from the party.

As Mark Steyn, author of “America Alone,” notes, half of the illegal immigrants in this country have come in since 9/11 and a country on “Orange Alert.” The Islamic cells that hit us on 9/11 used our underground illegal immigrant network to get driver’s licenses and to aid and abet their attack on us on that day. You can’t say that John McCain is good on national security when is doesn’t want to push detainees, wants to close Gitmo and doesn’t want to secure our border. John McCain needs to get out of the club of the Senate which he used so well to secure endorsements and get into the real world of people who love this country. If you travel with an entourage, you don’t fit that bill.

What am I going to do? I’ve been all over the board. I waited for Newt, hoped for Fred, supported Mitt, I was never a Huckabee person so I’m down to my fourth choice and I think it will have to be McCain. I can’t let there be a President Hillary or Obama and I have to fight to get the most conservative candidate elected.