Strange Brews: Conservatives Unite Over Anger, Not Candidates

Feb 19, 2010 7:57am

By Rick Klein An old war has a new name. Some old names have some new relevance. And the more things change, the more we hear about change.

The mood at the Conservative Political Action Conference gathering — which continues into the weekend in Washington — is decidedly more upbeat than a year ago. And the Bush name, not to mention the (maybe more popular) Cheney one, is back. Yet the energy fueling the gathering remains of a shapeless, sometimes dangerous variety. From the rousing ovations for primary challengers, to a speaker referencing President Obama’s past drug use and deriding homosexuality, to the endless teleprompter jokes (only some of them read off teleprompters), to the general motivating anger that has brought the crowd together — the big tent isn’t exactly pitching itself.

The cheers have sounded in rough correlation to the distance a speaker enjoys from the establishment — in a nation that doesn’t like its establishment, but also wants it to find ways to work together. “It produced a sometimes incongruous meshing of mainstream Republicans — presidential candidates, leaders of Congress, political thinkers — with the often rowdy crowd of activists who have typically lent a slight air of the carnival to this long-time Washington political gathering,” Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times.  “Speakers showed no hesitation in denouncing Republicans, often with the same intensity they brought in denouncing Democrats; Tea Party leaders made clear that Republicans could no longer count on the automatic backing of conservatives,” Nagourney writes. Coming together, if only to show you can be far apart: “The divisions roiling American conservatives were on display Thursday at an annual gathering of activists, with the movement's emerging leaders directly challenging the Republican establishment,” Peter Wallsten and Susan Davis report in The Wall Street Journal. “The efforts to push activists into the embrace of the Republican Party comes as some tea partiers are starting to push conservatives to run as third-party candidates instead of fighting primary battles.” “Energy alone won't herald a Republican revolution, and the excitement pulsing through the GOP base masks disputes and divisions the party faces ahead of critical midterm elections,” the AP’s Liz Sidoti reports. “Along with the right wing's new fervor, the GOP's struggle to find a unified voice was clear from the start of the annual three-day Conservative Political Action Conference — both in the speaker whom organizers chose to deliver the keynote address [Marco Rubio] but also in what he had to say.” Has the nation come this far, this fast? “We will bring them to justice in front of a military tribunal in Guantanamo!” Rubio, R-Fla., said. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank: “Celebrating the infamous military prison once would have been extraordinary — even President George W. Bush said he wanted to close it — but the delight about waterboarding and Gitmo served as a reminder of where the conservative movement has gone.” Or this far? Dick Cheney, tease: “A welcome like that's almost enough to make me want to run for office, but I'm not gonna do it,” the former vice president told the crowd, during his surprise appearance alongside his daughter, Liz. “I think Barack Obama is a one-term president,” he predicted. Cheney, in an interview with the “Scott Hennan Show,” on the Obama White House: “I just think they’re thin-skinned and they don’t like being criticized. And they feel like they have to go out to respond as it happens. I mean Joe Biden’s probably not the best responder they’ve ever seen.” Mitt Romney, warming up: “I am convinced that history will judge President Bush far more kindly.” “Romney said Obama and Democrats had ‘failed the American people’ — he repeated some version of the word ‘fail’ 13 times — and said ‘liberal neo-monarchists’ would ‘kill the very spirit that has built the nation,’ ” USA Today’s Susan Page reports. Feel free to read into this: “While Romney received several standing ovations in the packed ballroom, his reception did not have the same feverish enthusiasm awarded to such new faces as Marco Rubio, a conservative US Senate candidate from Florida, and Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who, in a surprise appearance, introduced Romney,” Susan Milligan writes in The Boston Globe.  Or this: “The new Romney, received Thursday as the favorite son at the gathering of conservative activists, is a more constant, seasoned, and comfortable figure, one whose applause lines match up more closely with his record, and whose protégé — Senator Scott Brown — is his party’s hottest star,” Politico’s Ben Smith writes. “His fundamental weakness in 2008 was his seeming discomfort in his public skin. He’s more at ease now.” Friday’s speakers include: Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn.; Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.; Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.; Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.; Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.; former attorney general John Ashcroft; former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga.; Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas; former Gov. Gary Johnson, R-N.M.; and Ann Coulter. Says a Pawlenty adviser — after chants of “T-Paw” greeted the governor at a reception Thursday night: “Governor Pawlenty will discuss his common-sense agenda for America, specifically offering four principles.  He will speak about conservatives' comeback in the past year, and give credit to the audience's shared principles, including limited government, rule of law, individual responsibility and free markets. He'll also share his personal story growing up in South Saint Paul and discuss his record of balancing budgets without raising taxes. He'll offer his common-sense ideas for how to address our nation's current challenges both foreign and domestic.” From Issa’s speech, per excerpts provided to The Note: “There are two very different ways of representing the people, and two very different results.  One is to assume that the people — left to themselves — are incapable of making the right decisions about how to spend their money, or educate their children, or provide for their families.  The only solution, if you think like that, is bigger government, higher taxes, more regulations, greater federal control — and ALWAYS, less transparency.” More Issa: “I intend to use every resource of my office to make sure that this Administration does not escape serious, thorough, and consistent oversight of its policies, its use of taxpayer money, and its aggressive determination to impose a foreign ideological vision on the people of the United States.” Another star of CPAC: “[James] O’Keefe, 25, wasn’t scheduled to do any official events at CPAC … but he attracted plenty of attention as he waded through the lobby of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, where the conference is taking place, posing for pictures with admiring fans who wished him well in his pending court case,” Politico’s Ken Vogel reports. “In a short interview in a hotel hallway, O’Keefe told POLITICO he had another investigative video ‘ready to go,’ though he wouldn’t reveal the topic or the timing.” President Obama starts his day in Nevada, with a town-hall meeting in Henderson, capping a campaign swing on behalf of a pair of embattled incumbent senators. Maybe more valuable than a fundraiser: “President Barack Obama will announce today during his visit to Las Vegas a new foreclosure rescue program, pumping $1.5 billion into Nevada and other hard-hit states to help housing agencies rework mortgages and save homes,” Lisa Mascaro reports in the Las Vegas Sun. “The president’s program, drafted at the urging of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, comes as Nevada’s housing crisis continues unabated while other regions show improvements, contributing to a dismal economic environment that is threatening electoral fortunes this fall.” Not that fundraisers aren’t valuable: “Amid sinking poll numbers and a spate of retirements by veteran lawmakers, Democrats have one early advantage heading into November's congressional elections: money,” USA Today’s Fredreka Schouten writes. “Democratic incumbents in the nation's most competitive races hold a substantial financial edge over their Republican challengers, a USA TODAY analysis of recent campaign reports shows.” What’s in a name? ABC’s Jake Tapper: “ABC News has learned that the Obama administration has decided to give the war in Iraq — currently known as Operation Iraqi Freedom — a new name. The new name: ‘Operation New Dawn.’ ” For your reconciling pleasure — how’s that summit looking now? “President Obama will put forward comprehensive health care legislation intended to bridge differences between Senate and House Democrats ahead of a summit meeting with Republicans next week,” David M. Herszenhorn and Robert Pear report in The New York Times. “Democratic officials said the president’s proposal was being written so that it could be attached to a budget bill as a way of averting a Republican filibuster in the Senate.” “President Obama, after sustaining months of criticism for not being clear about what he wanted in healthcare legislation, will post specific proposals for a comprehensive plan on the Internet by Monday,” Noam M. Levey reports for the Los Angeles Times. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: “There will be one proposal. It is the president's.” The AP’s Chuck Babington: “A senior administration official said Democratic congressional leaders have nearly finished efforts to reconcile two health bills, which the House and Senate passed separately last year with practically no Republican help.” Unless: “A senior Democratic aide said Thursday evening that the bill was assembled without any input from House and Senate Democratic leaders, and cautioned that it should not be viewed as an agreement to reconcile the two chambers’ bills,” Roll Call’s David M. Drucker reports. Sebelius, on offense: “Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Thursday unveiled a government report which she said ‘shines a light on the urgency for health reform,’ and pins the rise of premiums in the individual healthcare market squarely on the profit margins of large insurance companies,” per ABC’s Bret Hovell. Key transition: “Neera Tanden, one of the Obama administration's top health care reform advisers, is leaving to become chief operating officer at the Center for American Progress (CAP), the liberal Washington think-tank with close ties to the Democratic establishment,” Jonathan Cohn reports in The New Republic. “The timing of the announcement, given the highly uncertain prospects for Obama's reform plan, is sure to raise some questions.” On stimulus spin –Walter Shapiro zags, at Politics Daily: “Nothing seems more devastating on the surface for Obama than that poll number suggesting that less than 1-in-16 (6 percent) of all adults believe that the economic stimulus package has created jobs. But what most news reports neglected to mention was that in response to the same multiple choice question in the Times/CBS Poll, another 41 percent of all adults said they believe that the stimulus ‘will create jobs, but hasn't yet.’ What this means is that 47 percent of all adults (a number almost identical to Obama's approval rating) believe that the stimulus has or will create a large number of jobs. This is not a ringing popular endorsement of Obama-economics (or Keynes, for that matter), but neither is it a repudiation.”  In New York — part two of the Times’ profile of Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y.: “On the eve of his election kickoff, however, interviews with dozens of current and former aides, legislators and friends reveal significant criticism about Mr. Paterson’s management of the state and of his election effort,” Danny Hakim writes. “Those interviewed describe the governor as remote from the most seasoned people around him, and increasingly reliant on people whom he feels comfortable with but who lack deep experience in government, including his former driver, David W. Johnson, and his former Albany roommate, Clemmie J. Harris Jr., who retired from the State Police on disability a decade ago and has been appointed special adviser to the governor.” Said Paterson: “I resent this sort of, in my opinion, and I’ll be frank with you, kind of profiled way that it appears that all I’m doing is drinking, chasing women, doing drugs.”
The Kicker: “Arm candy.” — Former Vice President Dick Cheney, describing his role at his daughter’s side. “As Brett Favre has shown us, you can say no. But you know, there are always options open.” — Former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., on his political future, on ABC’s “Top Line” Thursday. For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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