CPAC 2011 On the Ground: Day One

The 2011 Conservative Action Political Conference (CPAC) got off to a bang on Thursday with Donald Trump and newly-elected Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) providing immediate fireworks.

The Donald spoke to a riled up crowd, supporting a recent rumor that he is considering a presidential run on the Republican ticket, and outlined the contours of his potential platform. But more than anything, Trump got a lot of buzz for taking a shot at Sen. Paul's father, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, stating flatly that, "Ron Paul cannot get elected folks, I'm sorry." Given the number of Paul-ites and libertarians in the crowd, the statement produced some groans, boos, and jeers. The remainder of his speech looked to shore up his gun and pro-life bona fides and bemoaned American trade policy (Donald wants our money back from everyone, everywhere). Few consider Trump a legit contender for the Republican nomination, but by dipping his toes in the presidential pool, he should be good for "billions" of laughs.

Sen. Rand Paul, however, kept things a bit more serious and delivered a strident and somewhat controversial speech, even for the conservative crowd. Sen. Paul took the GOP leadership to task for "timid" work on the budget crisis. He received a few catcalls and jeers for proposing cuts to the defense budget but firmed up his support later with a call to abolish the Department of Education, a long-time but recently unuttered desire of conservatives. Sen. Paul is the apple that clearly hasn't fallen too far from the tree.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld introduced former Vice President Dick Cheney to an elite group of CPAC attendees on Thursday, jokingly plugging a Cheney run for president under the slogan, "Cheney in 2012...the Dick you know." Funny as that was, Cheney was later subjected to booing and accusations of being a war criminal by a couple of hecklers, perhaps Ron Paul supporters, perhaps not. The heckler was drowned in a chorus of "USA! USA! USA!" and eventually removed. The whole tumult was shrugged off it seems, which is probably for the better. Cheney might've been packing.

The evening was highlighted by a number of parties, fundraisers, and receptions. Notably, FreedomWorks USA, an umbrella organization for the various Tea Parties, sponsored a "Blog Bash" bringing together some of the preeminent conservative and libertarian bloggers in the country. The affair was genial and relatively low-key, something of a family reunion. Selected scenes from the upcoming film production of Ayn Rand's, "Atlas Shrugged" were screened. The room's reaction was mixed, but I found it rather well done and seemingly true to the text. Then again, I may just be suffering from the soft bigotry of low expectations following previous conservative-financed and produced films such as the Left Behind series. (I look forward to your letters.)

All in all, the first day of CPAC went off without a hitch. The sponsorship by gay-friendly Republican organization GOProud seems to have done little to dampen attendance, despite various boycotts from less gay-friendly activists. As Karol Markowicz noted on the subject prior to the conference, the entire issue fades into the background when the rubber hits the road: pro-gay marriage or not, most everyone here can agree on one thing — beating liberals, Democrats, and Obama in everything, everywhere, for the foreseeable future.

Friday's agenda includes speeches by potential presidential contenders former Governors Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Rep. Ron Paul, and businessman Herman Cain. I'll have reports on the goings-on later. If there's anything in particular y'all want me to attend and write about, let me know in the comments. The CPAC agenda can be found here.

A Brooklyn transplant now residing in Washington, DC, Claudio Simpkins is a former corporate attorney and media surrogate for Republican candidates. He has consulted on youth, urban, and minority outreach and analyzed the 2008 Republican presidential primaries and general election for various new media outlets. He can be followed on Twitter @csimp19.