Six Stories to Watch at CPAC

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Another year, another CPAC -- the annual conservative political conference/carnival held in the Washington, DC area. And while you should always take what happens at CPAC with a grain of salt (see the past winners of the straw poll below), the three-day conference that kicks off in earnest today comes as the 2016 presidential race is now underway, and as the Department of Homeland Security is set to run out of funding tomorrow. So here are the six storylines we’ll be watching:

  1. Does Scott Walker continue to stand out? No other Republican 2016er has stood out more in the past month than the Wisconsin governor -- whether it was his performance at that Iowa cattle call or his position in the early polls. Does that continue when addresses CPAC at 5:00 pm ET tonight? An additional thing to consider about Walker: During Giuliani-gate, we saw lots of conservatives rally to his side, suggesting that he’s getting the benefit of the doubt from these folks. And that’s a powerful thing in presidential politics.
  2. How does Jeb Bush fare? Let’s be honest, CPAC isn’t exactly Bush’s kind of crowd. (That designation probably goes to Rand Paul, who’s won the last two CPAC straw polls). So it will be interesting how the former Florida governor is received. Keep this in mind: Unlike past presidential-candidate remarks at CPAC, Jeb’s 20-minute remarks will be a Q&A with Fox’s Sean Hannity. As National Review has reported, “all of the prospective 2016 presidential candidates who take the stage at CPAC this year have the option of delivering a speech and then taking questions, which will be culled from Twitter, or forgoing the speech entirely and participating in a 20-minute question-and-answer session instead.” Hmmmm. Jeb’s relationship with past American Conservative Union chair Al Cardenas doesn’t hurt here.
  3. Does a second-tier candidate emerge? Someone else is likely to break through today or tomorrow at CPAC. Is it Ben Carson? Bobby Jindal? Rick Santorum? Carly Fiorina? Rick Perry?
  4. How do the speakers react to the looming DHS shutdown? The clock is ticking the battle over DHS funding and immigration. And with the ball now in the court of House Republicans (more on that below), do the speakers urge the House GOPers to fight the good fight?
  5. What’s the bigger applause line -- immigration or Common Core? Speaking of immigration, we noticed at Rep. Steve King’s cattle call in Iowa last month that Common Core, not immigration, was the bigger rallying cry among speakers. Indeed, CPAC this morning is hosting a panel entitled “Common Core: Rotten to the Core?” Given this opposition, it’s not surprising that conservative defenders of Common Core chatted with reporters to push back against this kind of opposition.
  6. Finally, how big of a focus is foreign policy? At past CPACs (especially from 2009 to 2012), the issues of the economy and the deficit/debt were the biggest critiques of the Obama administration. But with the economy continuing to improve and with the deficit falling, we’ve got to figure that foreign policy will be a bigger focus than in years past. As the New York Times recently wrote, “Gruesome killings by the Islamic State, terrorist attacks in Europe and tensions with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia are reshaping the early Republican presidential race, creating anxiety among party voters and sending potential candidates scrambling to outmuscle one another on foreign policy.”

Thursday’s CPAC schedule

8:40 am ET: Ben Carson

1:00 pm: Chris Christie

1:20 pm: Carly Fiorina

1:40 pm: Ted Cruz

5:00 pm: Scott Walker

5:20 pm: Bobby Jindal

Friday’s CPAC schedule

8:40 am ET: Marco Rubio

9:00 am: Rick Perry

10:20 am: Rand Paul

12:20 pm: Rick Santorum

1:40 pm: Jeb Bush

4:20 pm: John Bolton

The past CPAC straw poll winners

On Saturday at 5:10 pm ET, the results from the CPAC straw poll will be announced, but here’s a friendly reminder: The straw poll winner hasn’t always been the best measure of who will win the party’s presidential nomination. Here are the past winners:

2014: Rand Paul

2013: Rand Paul

2012: Mitt Romney

2011: Ron Paul

2010: Ron Paul

2009: Mitt Romney

2008: Mitt Romney

2007: Mitt Romney

2006: George Allen

2005: Rudy Giuliani

The DHS ball is in Boehner’s court -- and the timing with CPAC couldn’t be worse for him

With the Senate easily advancing a “clean” bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, the ball is now in House Speaker Boehner’s court. And the timing couldn’t be more problematic for him: The conservatives assembling at CPAC probably aren’t going to appreciate House Republicans caving in their fight against the Obama administration. It’s déjà vu for Boehner: He’s caught between trying to help his caucus out of tricky situations, and looking over his shoulder for conservatives who want his head on a platter if he caves to Democrats. What we haven’t been able to understand: Why haven’t Boehner and Republicans been able to make their success (so far) in the courts against Obama’s executive action an asset here?

Another problematic headline for Clinton Inc.

Finally, here’s another problematic headline for the Clintons, courtesy of the Washington Post: “The Clinton Foundation accepted millions of dollars from seven foreign governments during Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, including one donation that violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration, foundation officials disclosed Wednesday… In one instance, foundation officials acknowledged they should have sought approval in 2010 from the State Department ethics office, as required by the agreement for new government donors, before accepting a $500,000 donation from the Algerian government.” In response to the story, we received this statement from the Clinton Foundation: “Immediately following the devastating earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, the Embassy of Algeria made an unsolicited donation of $500K to Clinton Foundation Haiti Relief fund. As the Clinton Foundation did with all donations it received for earthquake relief, the entire amount of Algeria's contribution was distributed as aid in Haiti. This donation was disclosed publicly on our website, however, the State Department should have also been formally informed. This was a one-time, specific donation to help Haiti and Algeria had not donated to the Clinton Foundation before and has not since."

But will voters ultimately care?

While this story is outraging columnists and editorial boards, are voters going to care much about this story, especially since the money went to Haiti? As we’ve written before, the Clinton Foundation taking money for governments -- when either Clinton was secretary of state, or when she is currently pursuing a presidential bid -- is a conflict of interest. But when it comes to these kinds of stories, voters usually yawn, unless the money is being used for personal gain.

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