One of the more interesting parts of attending CPAC is having the opportunity to watch how it it covered in the news as compared to the events you see with your own lying eyes. Reconciling the two can be entertaining, I assure you. One great example was the television coverage which came out of Jeb Bush’s appearance here yesterday. The reception he received was “mixed” at best, and this was noted in some mainstream media outlets, but others seemed to paint a fairly sunny face on the whole affair. As you might expect, National Review has both aspects covered.
Scores of CPAC attendees began to file out as soon as Jeb Bush started speaking with talk show host Sean Hannity this afternoon,which did eventually garner plenty of applause. After exiting the main auditorium at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the protesting attendees began chanting “USA, USA” and “Stand with Rand.”
Despite the sign of defiance, the main ballroom was as packed for Bush’s talk as it had been for any other 2016 contender, including Scott Walker and Rand Paul. Bush’s comments attracted cheers from some parts of the ballroom, which was more packed than it had been at any other point in the conference, but was also punctuated by occasional heckles, including shouts of “Open borders!”
Flipping through the channels here in DC, I saw a few, much shorter clips which showed nothing Bush answering a single question on immigration followed by a round of cheers, applause and supportive sounding shouts from the crowd. To act as if this was some version of reality would be an injustice to the audience.
A number of outlets who were watching more closely reported that Team Bush was aware that the anticipated mood of the regular attendees was more than a little sour toward the former Florida governor. With that in mind, his staff began bussing in supporters from inside the Beltway to shift the image in his favor a bit. But there’s even more to the story than that and it happens with virtually all of the candidates.
What all these teams are looking for are good video clips which will be used on the web and hopefully be picked up on cable news. The “supporters” of these candidates – in most cases – are not just random people who were asked if they would like a ride over to see the speech. They are essentially trained actors. Even though nobody else seems to have seen them at the event prior to the scheduled appearance time, they all show up shortly before the candidate. Near the entrance of the facility, they line up and wait in two lines, forming a sort of supporter corridor for the candidate to walk down when pass through. When the candidate finally arrives, they break out into applause and often well organized chants. They will then frequently move off to some hall deeper in the facility to do it again, eventually winding up in the crowd where the speech is to take place. You can also identify them by the sort of “church pew” responses they give. Rather than just applauding when the candidate makes a particularly salient point, there are a number of them who will break out with “Oh, yeah!” or something similar, seeking to coax others to join in. I refer to it as a church pew chant because they might as well be yelling, “Hallelujah, Reverend!”
At CPAC 2011 (at a different hotel) we were in a small conference room attending a blogger event hosted by Haley Barbour. I stepped out into the hallway for a moment and wound up getting my first look at the phenomena I’m describing here. While a friend and I were talking, a group of several dozen guys came around the corner, nearly all wearing Romney buttons, and silently began lining the hall on each side. A few minutes later, Mitt came around the corner followed by the usual camera crews. Cheers went up and the previously silent “attendees” suddenly broke out in a “spontaneous” chant of ROM – NEY! ROM – NEY! There was much fist pumping in the air which amazingly seemed to be almost entirely in unison.
This went on until both Mitt and the cameras exited the hallway and headed for street level, at which point the wildly supportive (but now once again silent) assembly headed out in a group and left the building. I saw the same display near the entry of this hotel for Trump yesterday morning and I’ve seen it many, many other times as well. It’s how these things work if you have a big, well organized ground game. So, in short, if the only coverage you get of a conference like this is a three minute clip on ABC, be careful what you believe. There’s always a lot more than meets the eye.