Most importantly, we started the day with Cafe du Monde. Well, after waking up early to tape a podcast, that is. And if you’ve never had beignets before, they’re amazing and coma-inducing. Amazing.
Then it was down to the Hilton for day two of speakers. Today included Mike Pence, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and Michael Steele, among others.
Mike Pence kicked things off. I’ve mentioned my love for him before, and he didn’t let me down this time. Honestly, he was every bit as warmly received as Palin was, and got many a standing ovation. His passion is amazing. Pence has been a supporter of the grassroots all along, and I was glad to see him so warmly received at an establishment event.
Honestly, most of the day was rather boring from a speaker standpoint for me. Ron Paul gave a very Ron Paul speech. His supporters cheered, everyone else groaned. Haley Barbour was listing players in the movement of the past year, and rattled off a list of the usual suspects. “Ron Paul!” was shouted from the audience, and Barbour goes “Sure, Ron Paul…” I get frustrated with the overrepresentation of Ron Paul and Mitt Romney at these things. I don’t believe it’s anywhere close to how many actually represent them on a national scale.
As per usual, Herman Cain fired everyone up. He’s an amazing speaker – the only one I’ve encountered that can silence a blogger lounge the minute he starts. Let’s face it, we’re really not quiet people. His passion was a breath of fresh air. Melissa Clouthier and I had the opportunity to sit down with him after his speech and were so impressed with him. I’ll post the video later, when she finally gets it up, but I asked him about his experience at the Tea Party rallies, and asked if he’d ever felt unwelcome at all being a black man at the events. His answer was a strong “no”, and he called the accusations of racism crap.
Another notable moment included Haley Barbour trying to talk up Charlie Crist. There were audible groans from the audience, which was somewhat encouraging, but there’s an underlying message there. In Rubio we have a candidate that is clearly conservative, has a ton of grassroots support, and is killing Crist in the polls. For someone like Haley Barbour, who is generally believed to be among the conservative Republicans, to throw his support behind Crist, who is the personification of everything our movement is trying to destroy, was a reflection of how deep those establishment ties really do run. We have our work cut out for us, probably more so than maybe I realized. It’s easy when surrounded by genuine grassroots activists and conservative thinkers day in and out as I am to lose sight of the bigger Republican machine. It’s still out there, and still needs an incredible amount of work.
Michael Steele wrapped up the speakers, and the words floating around the room to describe him was “subdued”. He looked worn down. His voice was nowhere near as passionate or fired up as he generally is. He sounded like he was tip-toeing around the things he actually wanted to say. He offered a heartfelt apology for the controversies, which seemed to be very well received.
The conference as a whole, for me, was uncomfortable. I as I was wrestling with why it was so awkward (aside from the fact that the schedule was bizarre). one look around the “media filing center” answered my question: They had done nothing to bring bloggers into the fold. Ed Morrissey was the only one I spoke to that had been approached to attend. Melissa, Ed, and myself were among the few bloggers in the room. Bringing speakers back for interviews was like pulling teeth – they clearly thought that doing so was a favor to us, and not an opportunity for them.
For all the progress we’ve made in the online world, it was frustrating to feel the distinct difference between all of the conferences I’ve been to in the past year and this one. For those who were at CPAC this you, you felt the energy when you walked into the blogger lounge. That was clearly the nerve center of what was happening – nearly candidates and speakers were brought up for interviews, there was livestreaming from several sources, radio broadcasting. This time, not so much. You would think that with the state of the GOP, they’d focus on friendly outlets to reintroduce themselves. Instead, they’d apparently rather let the WashPos and NYTs of the world continue to tear them to shreds. Good luck with that, guys.
Republicans wear me out. I’m glad that we have a great new crop of young guys coming up – I continue to be impressed with the new candidates I meet, and it gives me hope for 2010 and beyond.