CPAC III: Special Awkward Meetings Edition


Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference was, for want of a better term, "Presidential Candidates Plus Ann Coulter Day." Frontrunner Rudy Giuliani decided to give an address, and the event's entire itinerary was shuffled to fit him in. The result: A compelling, rambling, philosophical speech about his battles in New York (cutting welfare, cutting taxes, etc) and how to end the war on terror. Everyone who was anyone attended the speech: Here are David Brooks and R. Emmett Tyrell (behind them, blogging ubermensch Patrick Ruffini), listening intently.

For a crowd that knew Giuliani as the brass-knuckle terror-smasher of 9/11, it was surprisingly thoughtful stuff. "Americans don't like war. Americans don't want to make war. Americans want to do business with people." Tellingly, this didn't get a standing ovation. What did? "We need the PATRIOT Act, and we need electronic surveillance!"

This photo, taken during Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback's visit to the exhibit hall, accurately conveys the combination of bewilderment and creepiness of the Poor Man's Santorum and his campaign swing. Brownback's speech was… odd. I quote Dave Holman:

Brownback's fascination with corn is unfortunate, and reflects politics over good economics.

He talked a lot about corn. He talked a lot about cancer, and how we "can make it our goal to end cancer in 10 years." His campaign song was "Gonna Fly Now," and his motto was—I am not kidding—"I'm going to take the yellow brick road all the way to the White House!" (When I got close to him I started to yell a question about Iraq exit strategies, but he smartly ignored me.)

Here's Gov. Mitt Romney and Minutemen co-founder Chris Simcox. No one took more flak from conventioneers than Romney—if the man dressed as "Flip Romney" and the flimsy sandals (Romney flip-flops) weren't enough, loud Brownback supporters tried to drown out Romney's fluffy conversations with right-wing bloggers. They did this even when he was speaking to a child. Romney gave a good speech on points, hitting the kinds of applause lines ("This is the time! This is the place!") that Giuliani considered beneath him and Brownback couldn't nail if he had the world's largest hammer. But he didn't impress any skeptics. After Simcox asked Romney what he'd do about the border and got a pat answer, he turned to me and groused. "He's just another slick politician—he doesn't stand for anything. These people aren't running for president, they're running for American Idol.' (Simcox said he was leaning towards Tom Tancredo or Duncan Hunter.)

And speaking of "Flip Romney," the Mormon-hating dolphin:

Here he is sharing a laugh with Andrew Sullivan. Write your own jokes.

Something I didn't photograph, but wished I did: Nation magazine writer Max Blumenthal queued up to get a book signed by Michelle Malkin. When he reached her, however, he didn't produce a book. He produced this photo and asked her to sign it. According to Blumenthal, Malkin got so angry she left the table; video that can prove or disprove this telling should be posted on Monday.

UPDATE: By the way, only after Romney did his tour of the bloggers' desks did I learn that Ann Coulter had called John Edwards—who, unlike Coulter, is married with children—a "faggot." Before his speech, Romney had said how excited he was about Coulter and how it was nice to have "moderates" at the event, which was a hilarious and transparent plea for conservatives' affection. I'm really, really bummed that I didn't know this and yell a question about it at Romney, and encourage the next reporter who talks to Romney to grill him about Coulter.