By Lynn R. Mitchell
It was not going to be a friendly crowd, the pundits wrote, when Jeb Bush decided to address attendees at this weekend’s CPAC convention in Baltimore. As a conservative with a proven track record from two terms as governor of Florida, Jeb has been bashed and redefined by conservative talk show hosts who have trashed him to their core listeners.
Word circulated prior to Friday’s event that there would be a walkout en mass by those who considered themselves far more conservative than Jeb (see CPAC attendees plan to walk out on Jeb Bush).
Jeb switched gears mid-week, opting for a question-and-answer with conservative Fox News commentator Sean Hannity in front of the CPAC crowds, and did extremely well. Chris Cillizza, writing in the Washington Post (see Jeb Bush was very, very good at CPAC today) said, “He was, in a word, presidential.”
Did Bush more than hold his own with an audience that was ready to embarrass him in front of every national reporter in the country? Yes.
Bush was energetic — maybe due at least in part to nervousness in facing a testy crowd — and informed. He refused to back down — particularly on immigration — from positions that he knew would be unpopular with the crowd. He insisted that Republicans were good at opposing things but bad at “being for things.” He was composed. He was up to the moment. He looked, in a word, presidential.
Yes, there were hecklers and boos. There were also Jeb supporters who were louder and a much larger crowd than expected by the CPAC regulars. Jeb even responded to one heckler with the class that is trademark for the Bush family:
“I’m marking you down as neutral and I look forward to being your second choice” – Jeb Bush says to heckler
— Jackie Kucinich (@JFKucinich) February 27, 2015
Chris Cillizza, noting the tough crowd, continued:
Good luck, smart organization and a solid performance in the face of adversity is what successful presidential campaigns are built on. Bush and his team knew they were going into a tough crowd and he (and they) did everything they could to mitigate those issues. Does that mean Bush won a bunch of converts in a room packed with an amalgam of libertarians, social conservatives and young people just there to have a good time? Probably not. But he didn’t — and doesn’t — need to in order to be the nominee. What he has to do is convince those folks that he’s not nearly as different from them as they might think.
[He was] a politician of conviction who had total command of who he was and what he believed. CPAC is a win for Bush — the first one in front of people who might actually vote in a Republican primary he’s had.
It was a home run and an excellent return on a day spent at CPAC.
Photo by Daniel Cortez
February 27, 2015