I haven’t seen every speech at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, but...
1. Mike Lee is not a stirring speaker but he gave a noble speech. He respected the delegates enough to avoid flattering them. He challenged the delegates to go from the politics of protest to the politics of reform. Lee also set the standard for the other speakers. Do they focus on well thought out policies that address the problems of our time, or are they hucksters. Which brings us to . . .
2. Mike Huckabee is such a waste. He has the raw political talent to reach out to the median conservative voter and to working-class swing voters. In the 1980s, it was observed that Jesse Jackson seemed to be running not for the real job of president of the United States, but for the mythical job of president of black America. As Jonathan Coppage pointed out on twitter, Huckabee’s CPAC speech was not of someone running for the real job of president of the United States. It was half monologue from some right-wing version of the Tonight Show, and half job application for the mythical job of president of white evangelical America. And he is still for the FairTax. That is suicidal for a serious presidential candidate. Shouldn’t be a problem for Huckabee.
3. Rick Santorum is asking a lot of the right questions (though Mike Lee is doing more to point us to the right answers). Santorum is correct that conservative rhetoric needs to focus more on the specific concerns of wage earners and focus more on the dignity and social contribution of people who might not ever own a business (though they might), but who put in an honest day’s work and take care of their families. Santorum doesn’t have the temperament to be president, but everyone should be listening to him and Mike Lee.
4. Byron York did not like Chris Christie’s speech. Christie’s discussion of state-level reformism didn’t quite disguise his lack of any specific proposals at the federal level (though he did have a reference to drug rehabilitation). York is right that conservatives have more than a messaging problem. On the other hand, my sense is that the communication problem on the right is even larger than Christie suggests. More on that later in the week.
I would add for my part that while Christie’s speech wasn’t brave, it was a canny appeal to those “somewhat conservative” voters who are not especially well represented at CPAC, but are at the heart of the Republican nominating electorate.