Day One: CPAC from the scene Updated, video added

Working backward from the end of our day to the beginning, Michelle live-blogged John McCain’s speech while I manned the camera to catch any antics that might happen. None did. There were boos here and there, but only at the intro and spots that struck me as in bounds, i.e. when McCain needed to hear from the conservatives whose teeth he has made a habit of kicking in over the past few years. Allah’s read on the immigration portion of the speech is spot on, though thankfully Lindsay Graham’s Robin didn’t accompany Batman McCain to the festivities. That might have sparked a bad scene. Tom Coburn and George Allen’s intros to McCain didn’t spark a bad scene, though. They set a cushy conservative stage for him to take.

In his roughly half hour speech McCain showed his characteristic spine in repeatedly acknowledging that he and the base have had our differences. He took the boos in stride, made a joke or two about not needing to be reminded that he’s not Mr. Congeniality (though I think he can’t be reminded enough that some of his policies and legislative “achievements” are disasters, and he can’t be scolded enough for rapping conservatives and sucking up to Democrats). If you ask me, he didn’t make the sale today. But he didn’t flop either, and there’s time to win over conservatives with action more than words, and give him his due: He hit taxes and spending and was quite eloquent on the need to win the war. On that last issue, at least, I believe him. On many others, not so much.

He did coin a new phrase that’s bound to have some legs: “I respect your opposition.” Heh.

The Romney speech was preceded by the rumor that swept through the media at the back of the room: That Mitt would use the speech to drop out of the race. Michelle went to work to verify it along one angle, and I went to work along another. Unfortunately for me, I chose the cell phone route and cell phones hardly ever work in the main gallery. That has to be one of the more annoying features of this somewhat chaotically laid out hotel. Connectivity in this building is, in general, impossible in all the wrong places. Anyway.

So Michelle nailed down the verification, I called Allah and he posted.

Then Laura Ingraham took the stage and delivered a barn burner introduction for Romney, spending 10 minutes casting him as the conservative’s conservative and making a heartfelt case for him. Ingraham was convincing enough that I began to doubt whether the drop out rumor was true. When Romney took the podium and got half way through a speech that hit several core cultural and economic conservative issues and concerns, I doubted even more. Then, he pulled that U-turn and announced that for the good of the party and for victory in the war he should step aside from the race. He stunned the crowd, which was made up mostly of his supporters. They hadn’t heard the rumor. Neither, evidently, had Laura Ingraham, and I twinged at the thought that Romney apparently had left her to hang a bit on that introductory speech. His tactics made the moment very dramatic, no doubt about that.

The day began with a symposium on whether George W. Bush is the true heir to Ronald Reagan (conclusion: Nope) that was interrupted when Vice President Cheney arrived early to deliver his address. Michelle live-blogged that as well. We were front and center for the Vice President, and I was impressed once again with Cheney’s ability to connect and explain without pandering or emoting. In fact, I think his pandering and emotion chips stopped functioning ten years ago. But no matter. He can deliver a speech. It’s a shame, in retrospect, that the 2000 ticket couldn’t have been flipped. Or that we didn’t hear more defenses of the Iraq war from Cheney like we heard this morning.

Tomorrow: Hopefully, internet connections that work!

Update: Here’s a taste of the greeting that McCain received at CPAC. I shot it with my digital still cam. The applause with a smattering of boos went on for about another minute or so.

I think John McCain made one mistake today that may come back to haunt him, and it concerns how he treated Mitt Romney. It became obvious over the course of the campaign that both McCain and Mike Huckabee dislike Mitt Romney. When McCain got to the section of today’s speech about Romney, who had just dropped out, and Huckabee, who is still in at least until Saturday’s CPAC speech, McCain described Huckabee’s sense of humor and went on about the things that Huckabee brought to the campaign. In describing Romney, all McCain could muster was to say that Romney had run an “energetic and dedicated” campaign. That’s thin gruel for a man who had spent a good portion of his exit speech explaining why John McCain would make a better commander in chief than either of the Democrats. “Energetic and dedicated” is entirely value neutral. It suggests that McCain couldn’t think of a single good thing to say about Romney, especially when compared with how he described Huckabee. Add in the fact that McCain didn’t ask for Romney’s endorsement when they spoke on the phone after Romney’s announcement (can you imagine him not asking for Huckabee’s endorsement?), and it’s possible that a portion of Romney’s vote (the second largest portion in the primaries to date) won’t reconcile to McCain out of perceived slights to their guy.

That would an unfortunate outcome, but entirely in keeping with McCain’s record of letting his temperament getting the better of him.

One more update:
I heard Laura Ingraham on Fox a bit ago. She said that she learned of Romney’s decision to drop out about 10 minutes before she went on to introduce him. That would be about the same time the rumor started swirling, so she didn’t have any more advance warning than we did. She’s got game; in her speech she gave no hint that Romney was about to bow out.