How Trump and LaPierre outshone Christie, Ryan and Cruz at CPAC

Donald Trump, who spoke without a TelePrompTer, entertained the conservative crowds at the annual CPAC conference of the American Conservative Union on Thursday.
(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

NATIONAL HARBOR. Md. -- So what were Republican presidential hopefuls telling conservatives Thursday on opening day of the annual CPAC conference?

Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: Washington sucks.

Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan: Democrats suck.

Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: Everyone but governors sucks.

Yes, I paraphrase, but that was pretty much the takeaway from a fairly tamped down beginning to the American Conservative Union’s annual three-day ideology fest. What accounted for the relative torpor here?


Maybe it’s been a long winter. Maybe it’s just not as exciting to think about a presidential campaign three years before the election. Or maybe world events have taken the wind out of even the most partisan sails. It’s hard to get excited about Iowa in 2016 when the world is obsessed with Vladimir Putin in Crimea.

While the politicians made carefully crafted pitches, the crowd only truly came to life when fire-breathing NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre ripped the media for ripping his plan to put armed guards in every school and Donald Trump announced he would not use a TelePrompter, then delivered a rambling speech studded with gems like “You know the things the Chinese want? Anything Trump! My buildings! My ties!”

Authenticity, however loopy, always carries the day.

What did we learn about a few potential 2016 Republican presidential aspirants, apart from the fact that they feel about Obamacare the way Putin feels about the breakup of the Soviet Union?

Tea Party avatar Cruz, who has stretched the patience of the Republican establishment with antics like his ill-fated filibuster in September against Obamacare, is straining to position himself as a Washington outsider and populist.

“Washington is corrupt,” he said. “There is a corrupt and interlocking system of lobbyists and lawyers and consultants that are suckling off Washington. More and more people are making great wealth in Washington -- and Wall Street prospers, and Main Street suffers.”

A slimmed-down Christie, who hopes the shadow cast by the ongoing George Washington Bridge scandal investigation is shrinking as fast as his silhouette, is pinning his hopes on the conventional wisdom that the next president will be someone with executive experience -- like, say, a governor.

“Republican governors across this country have stood up and done things,” said Christie, who did not mention their ability to have busy bridge lanes closed but did single out several for praise, including Scott Walker of Wisconsin, where teachers are no longer forced to join a union. “And now membership is down 60%!” Christie said as the crowd thundered with approval.

Governors get things done, said Christie, but Washington? Full of blowhards.

“What you see in Washington is people who only want to talk,” Christie said, whose last press conference lasted almost two hours. “They can’t stop talking. The most dangerous 10 feet in Washington, D.C., is between anyone who wants to start talking and a camera.” (Was that a slap at Cruz, whose anti-Obamacare speech lasted for 21 hours?)

Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, was conciliatory toward his fellow Republicans, who have been beset by intramural strife. He dismissed the idea of Republican dysfunction as a Democratic fantasy.

“The way the left tells it, the Republican Party is in a big civil war--back-fighting, infighting, discord,” Ryan said. “Look, I’m Irish. That’s my idea of a family reunion.”

Funny. But not authentic.

More from Robin AbcarianTwitter: @robinabcarian