The Right Gathering
McCain at CPAC
Too bad I had to travel hundreds of miles to feel at home, but it was nice nonetheless. Very nice. Now it’s back to the reality that I live in a blue state where very few people see the world as I see it. It’s hard to get three conservatives together around here. At CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) in Washington DC, 6800 of us gathered to discuss what was important and what to do about it.
We didn’t agree on everything, but there was mutual respect between those with different opinions. Vice President Cheney spoke in the morning under heavy security on Thursday, the first day of the conference. Then, at lunchtime, I listened as Mitt Romney announced he was suspending his campaign. Most of us were shocked and I don’t think even Laura Ingraham, who introduced him, knew what was coming. That left only McCain, Huckabee, and Ron Paul, and it looked like McCain would win. With that, divisions within the attendees loomed larger. In the lobby outside the ballroom, NPR’s Mara Liasson put a microphone to my face and asked, “How do you feel about Romney dropping out?” Classic liberal question.
“You mean ‘What do I think?'” I asked.
“No. I mean how do you feel? Did you support Romney?”
I told her I did and that I was disappointed. Then she asked if I would work for McCain. I said I would vote for him but I was not inclined to work for him, except to point out in my writing why his Democrat opponent’s positions on issues are wrong. Then a New York Times reporter asked me the same question.
Many of us were struggling with the realization that our choice in November would most likely be between McCain and Obama or McCain and Clinton. Though McCain claimed to be a conservative and his support for our war with Islamofascists was strong, his positions on issues like illegal immigration, tax cuts, campaign finance, global warming, closing Guantanamo, and others were decidedly liberal. He’d even considered becoming John Kerry’s running mate in 2004. Prominent conservative leaders like Rush Limbaugh (not in attendance), Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter had been suggesting they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for McCain in November given his liberal positions. Could other strong conservatives bring themselves to put an X beside his name? That was the dilemma, and he was due to speak in a few hours.
Though I originally intended to go elsewhere in the big hotel for the next two sessions, I instead attended the ones scheduled in the big ballroom where McCain would be speaking to make sure I had a seat for his 3:00 PM appearance. During those sessions, his name came up several times as the speakers - two senators and two congressmen - began referring to him as “the presumptive nominee” and urged the audience to unite behind him. Most applauded when they heard this, but enough were booing that they could be heard everywhere in the large room. It was going to be interesting when McCain finally came to the podium.
The whole day’s program had been shuffled around to accommodate the vice president and the candidates. There was confusion when it got closer to McCain’s speech, but another factor was in play too. There were a lot of media in the room and not all of it friendly toward conservatives. Cameras were rolling. More than one speaker begged the crowd not to boo when McCain walked up but some still did whenever they heard his name. The Emcee gave a big introduction and many of us stood up and cheered loudly, but there were still plenty of audible boos. Then, instead of McCain, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma came out again to praise McCain up and down as if he were trying to tenderize the crowd. Finally, McCain came out and received the same combination of about 85% cheers and 15% boos.
It was a very important speech for McCain - almost an acceptance speech before a very sophisticated and very critical audience whose support was essential if he were to have any chance of winning the White House. He did as good a job as could be expected and moved significantly to the right on many issues including tax cuts, Supreme Court appointments and illegal immigration, pledging to build a border fence, and only after it was completed and functioning, to address the millions already here.
Later, Ron Paul announced his withdrawal, and the next morning, President Bush asked the audience to unite around the party’s nominee. Mike Huckabee came in Saturday morning saying he was still a candidate. McCain still has to beat him, win a majority of delegates, and unite the party. He’s not the nominee I would have chosen, but as for my choice in November? It’s a no-brainer: McCain. I hope my fellow conservatives come around to that before November.