NATIONAL HARBOUR, MARYLAND, February 23, 2017 — What a difference one year makes. CPAC 2016 came during a brutal primary and an even more brutal winter. As snow came down and froze the attendees, several GOP presidential candidates were clawing each other’s eyes out. The GOP was broken. Candidate Donald Trump canceled his appearance, as many CPAC attendees refused to accept him.
CPAC 2017 is an entirely different planet. The weather is sunny and gorgeous, with temperatures in the seventies. This time Trump is appearing, and he enters the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center a conquering hero. He slayed the Democrat dragon, ended the career of Hillary Clinton, and is on his way to reducing the entire Barack Obama presidency to an asterisk. The more than 10,000 attendees are thrilled with the first month of his presidency.
While Trump is the main event on Friday, CPAC Thursday started with a nighttime bang. Vice President Mike Pence showed why the most important choice President Trump made was also his best.
The wait for Pence reached levels of agony. Secret Service needed several hours to secure the area where he would speak. This led to some frustrations as Radio Row was shut down and various breakout panel sessions were either significantly delayed or canceled altogether. However, grumbling was kept to a minimum. Most attendees just wanted to get inside the convention main hall and hear Pence.
Three speakers preceded Pence. Entertainer Robert Davi noted that he would much rather be at CPAC than at Oscar parties.
The NRA’s Chris Cox reminded the crowd what happens to politicians who try to gut the Second Amendment right of private citizens to own guns. “The NRA hasn’t backed down from a fight in 146 years and we sure as hell weren’t scared of Hillary Clinton.”
Fox News personality Judge Jeanine Pirro gave an old-time stem-winder. She lamented that “Illegals have more rights than citizens.” The former prosecutor reminded us all that “It is the criminal who makes the choice to commit a crime.” She had the crowd cheering when she said that “It is time for an end to the criminal enclaves known as sanctuary cities” and that “It is time to protect the law abiding citizens of this country.” She spoke for pretty much the entire audience when she thundered that “It is time to stop being politically correct and start being morally right.”
Then came the main event. Pence is a special man, and he delivered a special speech. What made his remarks so unusual was that he alternated back-and-forth between partisan red meat and earnest appeal. For every boilerplate remark that could be found in any GOP 2016 campaigns tum speech, there was a nod to the tough task at hand.
The partisan first shot fired was the reminder that “President Donald Trump turned the blue wall red.” Then came the bipartisan seriousness. “Over in the White House we like to say that we’re now in the promise-keeping business.”
Pence followed with inspiration. “My friends, this is our time.”
There was of course some brief combativeness. “Talk about your fake news, look at all the promises liberals made about Obamacare.”
Pence did remind the few remaining people unfamiliar with him that he is pro-God, pro-gun, pro-Israel, anti-tax, and straight down the line doctrinaire conservative. Yet the key moments in his speech were not about what he believed, but what he and the rest of us all had to do.
“The President and I will work our hearts out.”
Pence implored the crowd to pitch in. “The success of our movement depends as much on you as it does on us.”
More important than anything else, Pence reminded the crowd that every little bit helps.
“We need your prayers.”
What made Pence’s speech as unique as it was heartfelt was his conclusion. It was the opposite of an Obama speech. For one thing, it had an ending. More importantly, it had substance. Obama had crowds chanting “Yes, we can” without ever telling anyone exactly what it was they supposedly could. Pence’s message was as sobering as Obama’s was vapid. Pence reminded the CPAC crowd and the world watching that the days of flowery words and flimsy results were over. The presidency is not about ribbon-cutting ceremonies, socializing with millionaire Hollywood celebrities, or taking selfies at funerals. It is a serious job with serious responsibilities that have been neglected for far too long.
With four words, Pence issued a new theme for the white House, a new doctrine that had not been seen in almost a decade.
“Let’s get to work.”