NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland, March 4, 2016 – Another CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) has come and gone, and as usual, the massive annual gathering of thousands of conservatives from across the country did not disappoint.
Every year, commentators and pundits try to put their finger on the pulse of CPAC and come to a conclusion about the general mindset of the conservative movement. This year, as in some other years, the tone was fluid. As attendees began to show up on Wednesday and Thursday, people clearly had Trump on their mind.
Conversations centered on what Trump would say and whether or not he should even be speaking at the event. The answer to the question about whether or not Trump should be at CPAC was somewhat mixed, but clearly most conservatives felt he didn’t belong.
Perhaps no one summed up that sentiment better than Republican Freshman Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska. If there was any doubt that Ben Sasse is the real deal in conservative politics, it was removed on Thursday when Senator Sasse delivered what might have been the strongest speech of the entire conference and his sharp jabs at Donald Trump resulted in raucous applause each time.
Sasse’s speech not only summed up the mood at this CPAC, but also reiterated the guiding principals of what the conference is supposed to be about as a whole: Limited government, the Constitution, individual liberty, and honesty. Truth above all else.
Then something strange happened. As attendees stood in the monstrous line to get through security for Ted Cruz’s speech on Friday, rumors began spreading that Donald Trump cancelled his Saturday speech and wasn’t even going to bother showing up.
Stunned CPAC-goers checked the CPAC Twitter feed and found:
— CPAC 2018 (@CPAC) March 4, 2016
After skipping the Fox debate to dodge Megyn Kelly, which Trump even admitted hurt him in Iowa, Donald made the decision to dodge the entire conservative grassroots movement and cancel his speech.
That shocking development instantly changed the conversation from what will Trump say to what was Trump thinking?
There was one more big move that would change the discussion and when it was all said and done, Trump wouldn’t be the story any longer.
That big move was Ted Cruz’s CPAC speech, which almost immediately followed the news of Trump’s decision to skip the event.
Ted didn’t skip it. He did the opposite. He showed up and knocked it out of the park and he went after Trump from the get go. With lines like “Orange is the new Democratic blue” Ted Cruz whipped the crowd up into a frenzy almost immediately and he wasn’t silent about the Donald’s absence either.
There was a noticeable difference in the room after Ted Cruz left, and from that moment on, it can be argued he was the story of CPAC and the annual straw poll that asks all the attendees who they want to be their next president confirmed it.
Ted Cruz won the straw poll going away. Ted handily beat Marco Rubio and Donald Trump finished a distant third.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that Ted Cruz has the solid support of the grassroots conservative movement.
While Donald Trump successfully managed to dominate the conversation in the days leading up to CPAC, his decision to not even show up to talk to this critically important group spoke volumes and the thousands of conservative activists who were awaiting his moment to present his case were paying attention to the decision.
If there has to be a winner, it was Cruz, and if there has to be a loser, that title belongs to Donald Trump. He didn’t show up. Even if he had, it is unlikely Trump would have moved the needle the way Cruz did.
Trump may have hung over the discussion at the start of CPAC, but Ted Cruz dominated the end.
The political winner of CPAC 2016 was clearly Ted Cruz. The conservative movement in America has declared yet again that it is alive and well.