CPAC — the Conservative Political Action Conference — opened its annual event this morning in Washington, in a mood far different from last year's meeting.
Back in February 2009, President Obama had skyrocketing polling numbers, Democrats had just added to their majorities, and Republicans were down in the dumps. Whatever energy conservatives had was hard to find.
No longer. Tea Parties have sprouted up all over the country, Republicans scored big in recent elections, the Obama numbers are falling, and the Right has been heartened by Dem departures in the Senate.
And the change in mood is like night and day at CPAC. For conservatives, on the defensive during the latter years of the Bush administration and a bit dispirited after the Obama victory, 2012 can't come soon enough.
One thing conservatives may be ignoring, however, is polls show that the only ones with worse numbers than the Democrats are ... the Republicans.
But CPAC is not about Republicans; it's about conservatives. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) made that clear this morning when he said he would rather have 30 Marco Rubios in the Senate than 60 Arlen Specters. Now, I think that's a line that probably would have made more sense when Specter was a Republican. But his point was clear: many on the Right would rather have fewer Republicans in the Senate with strong conservative values — like Rubio, who is running in Florida — than having 60 Republicans who are less committed to conservative positions. And when he mentioned the name of Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida who is the GOP establishment candidate in that Senate race, the result was loud boos.
Rubio got the crowd excited with a rip-roaring keynote speech:
2010 will not be just a choice between Republicans or Democrats. It will not just be a simple choice between liberals and conservatives. It will be a referendum on our nation's very identity. ... People want leaders that will come here to Washington, D.C., and stand up to this big government agenda, not be co-opted by it. The Senate already has one Arlen Specter too many. And America already has a Democrat party. It doesn't need another Democrat party.
You can watch Rubio's speech here, courtesy of The RightScoop blog:
The biggest surprise of day was at the end of Liz Cheney's speech. The daughter of the former vice president and co-founder of the organization Keep America Safe, Liz Cheney can give a red meat speech with the best of them. And the reaction was enthusiastic. But it didn't compare to what happened at the conclusion of her remarks, when she introduced her father, and the ovation lasted quite awhile.
Dick Cheney's first words: "A welcome like that is almost enough to make me want to run for office again." When that resulted in an ovation, he smiled and said, "But I'm not gonna do it."
Cheney didn't speak for long. But he did say that he thought 2010 would be a "phenomenal year for the conservative cause." And — a line that brought the house down — that Obama "will be a one-term president."
Here's the Liz/Dick Cheney speech:
Another surprise guest was Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), who, in dramatic emphasis, said, "I'm the REPUBLICAN senator from MASSACHUSETTS." Not too many Republican senators from Massachusetts have ever attended a CPAC event. In fact, I suspect Brown is the first.
Brown, a big favorite at CPAC, was there to introduce Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is plotting a second presidential bid for 2012. (Best Romney line: He said Lindsey Vonn had to give up her Olympic gold medal because Obama "is going downhill faster than she is.")
But will the Tea Party folks join the Republican Party, or try to take it over? Will they be part of an anti-Democratic Party/anti-Obama coalition, or will they be battling Republicans in 2010 and 2012?
Those questions are not going to be answered here. Right now, there's only cheering and screaming and smiling. Things you didn't see at last year's CPAC event.