If conservative conferences were all on Monster Island, CPAC would be Godzilla. It’s the biggest conference with the biggest names, the most parties and the most press. You want to meet big name conservatives, party, or network? Then CPAC is the best conference to do it at.
The event also has a blistering, hectic pace to it that can catch you by surprise if you’re not used to it. You miss meetings, lose track of people and by the third day, half the crowd is up a couple of hours later than it should be and most of the people who aren’t, look bleary eyed. This is the time when some people’s voices start to go and you start to hear talk about the “CPAC crud,” which is the name for the disease spread by the constant contact that goes on at CPAC.
While the panels and the speakers are important, if that’s all you hear about, you really don’t get a full sense of what goes on at CPAC. For that, you need stories about the private meetings, the parties, and most importantly, the pictures.
The Night Before CPAC: #Rinocon
The day before CPAC kicks off, there’s not much to do other than to unpack, grab your media credentials, meet some friends in the bar (always the best place to find bloggers) — and of course, #RINOCON. Since you’re probably wondering, the name was a goof that stuck and the event is just a gathering of bloggers and their friends at a local restaurant.
After hanging out for a few hours, it was time to get not quite enough sleep for the first of many every night at CPAC in preparation for…
Day 1: Rand Paul Rocks the crowd
Most Recognizable Speakers? Allen West, Pat Toomey, Dick Morris, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Tim Scott and Jim DeMint.
Favorite speech? Rand Paul.
Most disappointing moment? The Respecting Families and the Rule of Law: A Lasting Immigration Policy,” which featured a moderator and five advocates of amnesty discussing the best way to implement it while there wasn’t a single representative of the mainstream conservative position on the stage. It was completely ridiculous.
Favorite Vendor Booths?
Lunch? The National Bloggers Club provided lunch all three days, brought in speakers and generally acted as a liaison between bloggers and other groups at the event. It was just a phenomenal performance. As a board member, I wish I could take some of the credit, but Ali Akbar, Melissa Clouthier, Bruce Carroll and their team made it all happen.
Notable Panel of the Day: Although I am adamantly against gay marriage, I was going to go to the “Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet” panel because my friend Liz Mair was on the panel along with Jimmy LaSalvia from GOProud and Jonah Goldberg. As it turned out, the panel was BEYOND standing room only. It was so crowded, I ended up hanging out in the hallway with my friend Megan Carpentier waiting for it to end.
Party of the night? BlogBash. This was the HOTTEST party at CPAC and I must have had half a dozen people ask me to help get them in. Unfortunately, the seating was really tight this year and I didn’t even manage to get my customary Hawkins +5 this year (C’mon Ali Akbar, where’s the love?) On the other hand, BlogBash provided food, music, confetti, a great crowd full of fun people and oh yeah, Ted Cruz, who hung out for 30 minutes taking pictures.
(Special note: At this point in the article, I made an editing mistake and vaporized 3 hours worth of work that I had to rewrite. Just thought you’d want to wince and take some small pleasure in being glad that you weren’t the one who made that mistake)
Day 2: Mitt Romney Does What He Does Best In Politics
Most Recognizable Speakers? Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, Wayne LaPierre, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Eric Cantor, Bobby Jindal.
Trump’s Crowd: There have been multiple stories out there suggesting that Donald Trump didn’t turn out to be much of a draw at CPAC because there were a lot of empty seats when he talked. This shows a misunderstanding of how the whole event works. Trump was placed at 8:45 AM on Friday morning precisely because he is a big enough draw to get people who stayed up until 3 AM drinking to get up bright and early to show instead of wandering in at noon. Unfortunately, when you’re talking about guys with hangovers who got three hours sleep, a lot of them won’t get up for anything short of their bed catching fire. That’s just the nature of the beast.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2013
The 11th Annual Blogger Awards (Sponsored by Right Wing News & TheTeaParty.net): Once again, it was great to have the opportunity to partner with TheTeaParty.net in order to put on blog awards at CPAC. Without the tea party’s help, it wouldn’t have happened. It’s also worth noting that if you heard rumors a couple of months back that bloggers were going to have to pay $250 each to have an Internet connection on the floor of the convention, those weren’t just rumors. Because the hotel CPAC was held in is union-run, every cheap, simple solution to fix the problem in a reasonable way had been thwarted and if the TheTeaParty.net had not stepped in, it would have happened. (It’s fund raising to try to make up some of that cost they bore for solving a problem they didn’t create and if you want to chip in a few bucks, I’m sure TheTeaParty.net would appreciate it.)
After the TheTeaParty.net’s Tea Party and Media panel, they were kind enough to reach out to Michele Bachmann who gave a speech to lead into the event and then handed out the first award. Before turning the ceremony over to Larry O’Connor, who did a terrific job as master of ceremonies, I did a short intro for the awards and then Michele Bachmann got things started.
2) Best Humor Blog (Voted on by bloggers)
Presenter Scottie Hughes
3) Best Kept Secret Blog (Voted on by bloggers)
Presenter: Jedediah Bila (All the presenters did a great job, but Jedediah deserves an extra special thank you. After spending a lot of time and effort prepping, there was some confusion and someone else ended up handling the award Jedediah was supposed to present. Not only did Jedediah not complain at all, she filled in for another presenter who couldn’t make it on the fly and did a great job. Her professionalism and great attitude under those circumstances was much appreciated.)
4) Best Video Blogger (Voted on by bloggers)
Presenter: James O’Keefe
Nominees (Voted on by bloggers)
5) Best News Blog (Voted on by bloggers)
Presenter: Rusty Humphries
6) Lifetime Achievement Award For A Conservative Blog (Voted on by bloggers)
Presenter: Dana Loesch
Although Ace wasn’t there to get his award, Gabriel Malor showed up and read the funniest thing I’ve ever heard from the stage at a conservative event.
Gabriel Malor is an @sshole. He jumped ship to the New York Daily News without ever acknowledging that I am his intellectual and philosophical father, and that I made him, as a baker would make a loaf of Ungrateful Bread.
I have chosen him to accept this award on my behalf out of spite.
Thank you, John, and anyone else for this award. I appreciate it. It is a validation that I, and not the human ventriloquist doll reading this statement, am a true force in the online media.
Thank you again, and please makes sure that your thunderous applause is directed solely towards me and not this sad puppet that stands before you in all his shame.
There was one award that was not presented at CPAC because the winner chose not to show up or send anyone to receive it. He also publicly lied about the issue and claimed that I had “barred” him from receiving it. That award is…
The People’s Choice Award (This was open to public voting)
Fire Andrea Mitchell
Jammie Wearing Fools
The Mellow Jihadi
The Shark Tank
Sweetness & Light
Winner: Jihad Watch
Conservatives have a love/hate relationship with CPAC controversies. They love to hear all about it when it first happens and then a day or two later, they’d rather it go away. For that reason, it’s tempting just to ignore the controversy over this award and move on, but unfortunately since this story has already broken everywhere from The RightScoop, to Breitbart, to Raw Story, it’s important to talk about it here briefly.
Here’s my statement on Robert Spencer falsely claiming that he was “barred” from receiving his People’s Choice award that Breitbart is running.
“Despite what he claimed on his website, Robert Spencer was never ‘barred’ from receiving the People’s Choice award at the 11th Annual Blogger Awards (Sponsored by Right Wing News & TheTeaParty.net). Furthermore, even after Robert lied by claiming he was ‘barred” from receiving the award, I alerted him publicly and privately that he won and there would be a plaque for him at the ceremony. He apparently chose not to show up or send anyone to receive it because I would not allow him to make personal attacks on anyone from the ACU at the ceremony. Since Breitbart’s own article on ‘The Uninvited’ panel indicated ‘(Stephen) Bannon reinforced that the panel was not the time or place for personal attacks,’ that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable position in the least. In any case, I believe you have a duty to show some small amount of courtesy to an organization when you’re a guest at their event and so I have no apologies, regrets, or second thoughts about my decision whatsoever.”
As an extra added bonus, here’s the plaque that was waiting for Robert Spencer if he had shown up to collect it at the ceremony.
Last but not least, it’s worth noting that in the end, Breitbart did ultimately bring Spencer in to speak at CPAC. Before Spencer’s panel, I was asked if I was upset about that by Raw Story. In response, I noted that I wasn’t and said, ““As long as it’s not me involved with it and someone else is stuck with them, I’m happy.”
While I have absolutely no inside knowledge of what was agreed to or discussed before he went on stage, judging by Breitbart’s own article, it doesn’t sound like Spencer honored any sort of agreement he made with them about how the panel would be conducted.
Before Spencer began his talk, Breitbart’s Bannon reinforced that the panel was not the time or place for personal attacks. This, however, did not deter Spencer from calling out several people in the conservative movement by name. Spencer’s Jihad Watch website won the People’s Choice blog honor this year at CPAC, but he was barred from receiving the award (Hawkins’ note: This is in the original article. Of course, Spencer was never “barred” from receiving his award) when he refused to promise not to attack Grover Norquist and Suhail Khan in his acceptance speech (both Kahn and Norquist are on the board of the American Conservative Union, which puts on CPAC every year). But Spencer used the platform at “The Uninvited” to do just that, despite Bannon’s request.
I can’t work with people who behave this way; so I am done with Spencer. I don’t have any problem at all with other people who feel differently, but just remember that after you’ve read this, you can’t say that you weren’t warned.
Mitt’s Speech: Here we had Mitt Romney giving a big speech to a very friendly audience that was dying to cheer for him after his election defeat last November. But Mitt, being Mitt, had very little of interest to say and you could almost feel the powerful energy that had initially been present being sucked out of the room. It was the story of his entire campaign wrapped up in one little speech.
A Meeting with NRCC: The National Bloggers Club helped facilitate a meeting with the NRCC. I’m a little foggy on whether the details of our conversation were off the record; so I won’t comment on them. I will say it was a productive meeting, that other groups like the NRSC and RNC would be wise to follow its lead, and that Chairman Greg Walden (OR-02) seemed like he is on the right track.
A private meeting with House Minority Whip, Kevin McCarthy: I’m allowed to mention on the record that there were several bloggers/reporters in a meeting with Kevin McCarthy, but I’m not allowed to talk about what we discussed. I can say this much though: McCarthy is a really engaging guy who fed us some fascinating little stories and I left feeling MUCH BETTER about where the House really is on a number of key issues than I did going in. Again, I found it to be a very productive conversation and I’m glad Kevin McCarthy took the time to do it.
After the day’s festivities ended, I ended up having dinner with 5 other people, none of whom I knew well or had ever met in person before the conference. As you might guess from the picture, it was entertaining.
Incidentally, Larissa is with the People’s Cube and it has very original swag that it gives out.
Afterwards, there was much debate about what we should do. There were at least three other parties going on, all of which seemed to be flooded with 20 year olds.
Not my scene.
However, I had been invited to a party the day before that sounded like a little more fun.
Brad Marston’s #unsustainable bartab party: When we arrived, I realized there was a minor problem. I had been invited and thought it was open to anyone. Actually though, it was invitation only and by that point, I was rolling +15. Fortunately, they were fun people; so after talking to Brad, he gave the thumbs up. It was an epic party.
Lots of booze, a lot of high level former Herman Cain staffers (I bet he would have been fun in the White House) and hotel security eventually rolled in because we were making so much noise. That led to lots of futile “shushing,” which was never gonna work.
Eventually, I bounced out and went to the bar downstairs where I finally got a chance to catch up with my buddy Ashley Sewell.
It was more fun than it looked from this pic. ;)
After that, I called it a night and prepared for….
Day 3: Walker, Coulter, Cruz and Palin — Oh my!
Most Recognizable Speakers? Scott Walker, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter and Ted Cruz.
Saturday is the day when CPAC really starts to catch up with people. Early on Saturday morning, there were A LOT of no-shows in the crowd and many of the people who were there looked dead tired.
The highlight of my morning was, again thanks to the National Bloggers Club, getting in on a small, private meeting with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, whose courageous winning fight against the unions set an example for every Republican politician in America.
After an intro, Walker spoke for a few minutes and then took pictures with everyone.
Also hanging around were….
Incidentally, the name I kept hearing over and over again at CPAC that I hadn’t heard in previous years was indeed Katie Pavlich. I think she’s ready to break out and become a much bigger star. The fact that she was the CPAC blogger of the year doesn’t hurt either.
While there were a lot of great speakers at CPAC, the one I was most interested in hearing had mushed all the way down from Alaska to speak to us and if you bet she shot a couple of wolves from a helicopter on the way there, you might not lose money. On the other hand, she may not have time for that with all the jogging she has apparently been doing to build that athletic physique she brought to the stage.
Incidentally, because I was there helping out a sponsor, I actually had a VIP pass that allowed me to sit in BEHIND Palin. Want to see what the speakers’ view looks like complete with the clock they use to know how much time is left.
After Palin’s speech, I did a little work and went to the bar to meet with my friend Katie Kieffer. Katie and I had tried to get the ACU to approve a panel idea we had, but it didn’t work out (Maybe next year)
We ran into Jimmy GOProud’s Jimmy LaSalvia and we had a long. cordial conversation about CPAC, why GOProud wasn’t there and even gay marriage, although the two of us don’t agree at all on the issue. Even though it was a lot of fun hanging out, I had a bit of work to do before one of my faves hit the stage.
Not only did Ann give a great speech, she had two guys ask her out. She asked one of them for a note from his mother, first. Lol.
After Ann spoke, Ted Cruz wrapped things up.
A little later, I got together with my buddy Sarah Durand from the The Louisville Tea Party. In turn, she brought along her high school friend David Wilson of The Grio and MSNBC. I promised I wouldn’t write about what we discussed, I will neither confirm nor deny that Rachel Maddow will give him the stink eye if she finds out he was hanging out with conservatives.
And hang out we did, at….
Gabriella Hoffman’s 22nd birthday Party / Viral Read launch party. Viral Read is an excellent new website and all good hearted people like Gabriella Hoffman; so the party worked like peanut butter and jelly.
After the party, we went to an overpriced, so-so Mexican restaurant (although, in all fairness, its guacamole dip was ridiculously good).
Once dinner was over, Sarah and David each headed home while I decided to stop by one last party at the suite of Day of Resistance founder, Dustin Stockton.
….The great way to end a great night at a great event. This wasn’t the biggest CPAC I’ve ever been to, but it was a blast from start to finish. Much thanks goes to the The Tea Party News Network for bringing me in to cover the event, TheTeaParty.net for the blogger awards and the Internet, the National Bloggers Club for doing so much for bloggers, The ACU for holding the event and all the great people who helped, hung out and said “hello.” This may not have been the biggest CPAC, but it was the most enjoyable CPAC yet from start to finish.