The first day of CPAC 2010 offered up an exciting melange of prominent conservative voices. In addition, the diversity of viewpoints comprising the modern conservative movement was evidenced by the organizations who had purchased booth space in the exhibition hall here in Washington’s Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. Groups as disparate as GOProud (a gay conservative organization), Focus on the Family, The National Rifle Association, Tea Party Patriots, The Young America’s Foundation and Fairtax.org shared the large exhibition floor.
The day began with a kickoff speech delivered by one of the brightest rising stars in today’s Republican Party – Marco Rubio – currently running for the U.S. Senate from the state of Florida. A young charismatic politician from Florida’s Cuban community, Rubio spoke movingly of his parents’ hard work and sacrifice here in the U.S. to raise him and his siblings, and of the solid conservative values he has absorbed from his parents’ example and the stories he heard growing up about his extended family in Cuba. He spoke of American exceptionalism and of the need to preserve and defend what makes America the beacon of freedom it is to millions around the world. He warned that we now face a stark choice between maintaining our individualism and giving into rapidly-expanding government control. The task this year he said, is to make sure that Americans make the right choice.
Rubio was followed by Senator Jim DeMint, who spoke of the oath each Congressman and Senator takes to protect and defend the Constitution, and his belief that not enough of the current Congress takes that oath seriously. He also emphasized that reducing the size and scope of the federal government is crucial to stimulating robust economic growth.
State Representative Josh Mandel from Ohio – another rising Republican star – followed Senator DeMint and appealed to young conservatives to get involved in politics at the local level and to never be outworked by their opponents. He proudly displayed the shoes with holes in them he wore as he knocked on literally thousands of doors in Ohio asking for voter support in his successful 2006 campaign. A two-tour Iraq Marine veteran, he also appealed to conservatives not to write off all Democrats as hopelessly wedded to the left’s ideas. He told the audience that his experience taught him that with personal engagement and consistently good arguments many of these people can be persuaded to support conservative candidates.
Two more highlights today were the surprise appearances of Dick Cheney – introduced by his daughter Liz at the close of her speech on the importance of national security and Obama’s poor policy in this area, and Scott Brown, who came onstage to thunderous applause to introduce Mitt Romney. Both men clearly had won the hearts of this conservative crowd. Dick Cheney appeared to be particularly gratified by the thunderous and extended ovation he received.
Cheney quipped that his daughter Liz.
“Said I could come along, but that I would have to be content to be arm candy.”
In his short remarks he stated that these are historic times, and that to be a conservative in this political environment is exciting indeed. He predicted both dramatic changes in the makeup of Congress this coming November, and that Barack Obama will be a one-term President.
Networking opportunities abound here, and I had many engaging and thought-provoking conversations with fellow conservatives as we mingled at various small gatherings throughout the day. Friday – day two of the conference – promises to provide even more food for thought and discussion.