The plan going into this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was to break from some established norms. Speakers were going to be asked difficult questions; they would be forced to take some risks. Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, the conference sponsor, had even promised a stellar interaction with the assembled speakers.
The Republican Party, having lost two consecutive presidential elections and now potentially facing the formidable Hillary Clinton in 2016, is anxious to select a candidate who can compete nationally. As Schlapp told Washington Post columnist Dan Balz, CPAC could be a chance to see how potential 2016 contenders do when required to think on their feet about the issues.
Some folks didn’t get the memo, apparently.
In his grilling of Sen. Ted Cruz, the conservative favorite from Texas, Fox News host Sean Hannity offered up the most egregious softball of the day, asking, “Why does Ted Cruz love America?” Cruz launched into a crowd-pleasing answer that began with, “This country is the greatest country in the history of the world,” and ended in applause.
While Hannity’s meatball may have been the worst, it was different only in degree, not in kind, from most of the other discussions held on the main stage.
In her appearance with N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham’s version of a pointed query was, “What gives with Common Core? Why’d you sign it?” She was referring to the controversial educational standards that many conservative lawmakers oppose.
Christie was allowed to get away with blaming his decision on his successor, Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, saying Corzine had “teed it up” for him. “We signed on to try to get funds for a really difficult fiscal time,” said Christie.
Christie, who is facing numerous problems in New Jersey, including a struggling economy and a court’s rejection of his plan for dealing with state pension funds, glossed over those issues. He went on at length about his tough-talking style.
“Sometimes people need to be told to sit down and shut up,” he said to a large round of applause. “Quite frankly, Laura, more of that stuff should be happening in Washington, D.C. Because there’s so much ridiculous stuff being spewed, especially out of the White House. Someone should tell them to shut up.” More applause.
(Ingraham also spent a considerable amount of the 20-minute interview directly and indirectly attacking former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, one of the frontrunners for the Republican nomination, whose views on immigration reform she appears to dislike intensely.)
Near the end of the Christie interview, Ingraham finally brought up the elephant in the room: The governor’s terrible poll numbers. She noted that he’s polled in the single digits recently, near the bottom of the GOP field.
“That’s pretty low,” she said.
There it was, right over the plate – and Christie crushed it.
“If I’m going to run for president, I’m not worried about what polls say 21 months before we elect the president of the United States,” he thundered.
What about Jeb Bush, she asked, and his massive fundraising operation?
“If the elites in Washington who make backroom deals decide who the president is going to be, then he’s the frontrunner,” Christie said. “If the people of the United States decide to pick the next president of the United States and they want someone who looks them in the eye, connects with them and is one of them, I’ll do okay if I run.”
Christie left the stage as he had entered, to the strains of “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.
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