Top 12 Takeaways From America’s Biggest Conservative Conference

The Daily Signal made its CPAC debut this year, closely following the 2016 contenders and hot policy debates at America’s largest conservative conference. We’ve pulled together a quick take on the highlights of the first day.

1) Scott Walker Casts Himself as Champion of ‘Hard-Working Taxpayers’

The Wisconsin governor arrived at CPAC as the early 2016 frontrunner in Iowa, home to the much-anticipated Republican caucus next year. His speech, which came at the end of day one, drove home an economic message, touching on issues such as taxes and jobs that have played a big role in his three electoral victories in the Badger State.

During his speech, Walker found himself heckled by a member of the audience—an experience he’s endured on more than one occasion in Wisconsin. Winning applause from the crowd, he declared, “those voices can’t drown out the voices of hard-working taxpayers.”

Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., at CPAC. (Photo: Mike Theiler/EPA/Newscom)

2) Ted Cruz Criticizes GOP Leadership for ‘Cutting a Deal’ with Democrats on Immigration

With a deadline fast approach to fund the Department of Homeland Security, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, showed no signs of compromising with Democrats. Conservatives, including Cruz, want to undo President Obama’s executive actions on immigration as part of the funding bill, which the Senate will vote on again Friday.

Before his speech, The Daily Signal joined a handful of journalists for a sit-down interview with Cruz. Here’s what he told us about the state of play:


3) Ben Carson Tells CPAC Crowd He Wants to ‘Get Rid of Dependency,’ Not Welfare Programs

CPAC’s first act Thursday was the Maryland neurosurgeon who had a pack of devoted followers track his every move around the Gaylord National Convention Center. In his speech, Carson touched on a number of hot-button issues—from government dependency to reaching minority voters.

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Carson argued for greater local control in education, noting that homeschooling in the best choice for parents and public school is the worst. He also publicly stated his opposition to Common Core.

4) Mia Love: Conservatives Can’t Yield the Moral High Ground to the Left

Just outside the main ballroom at CPAC sits The Daily Signal’s studio. Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, elected in November, joined us to share her goals in Congress and why she’s a champion of conservative principles.

“My goal is to do more undoing than doing—removing the layers of bureaucracy,” Love said.


5) Hillary Clinton’s Foundation Accepted Donations From Foreign Governments. One GOP Leader Says That Disqualifies Her From Being President.

At a private briefing with reporters, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus took aim at Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner for president. Citing donations given to the Clinton Foundation by foreign governments, Priebus said the former secretary of state should be disqualified from her White House bid.

“I don’t know how Hillary Clinton is going to take a 3 a.m. call from a leader in Yemen or Algeria or Saudi Arabia when she was willing to have her foundation take potentially millions of dollars from those governments,” Priebus said.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (Photo: Molly Riley/Newscom)

6) Carly Fiorina Makes Her Target Crystal Clear: Hillary Clinton

The speaker toughest on Hillary Clinton yesterday was Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive and prospective 2016 candidate. Fiorina directed her attack on Clinton’s record as secretary of state, namely her role in the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and the “Russian reset.”

“Like Mrs. Clinton, I too have traveled the globe,” Fiorina said. “Unlike Mrs. Clinton, I know that flying is an activity, not an accomplishment. I have met Vladimir Putin, and I know that his ambition will not be deterred by a gimmicky red reset button.”

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Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, walks the hallway before her speech at CPAC. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

7) Sheriff David Clarke: Ferguson Is Not an Epidemic

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke made headlines for his views on race in America after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson last year. As riots destroyed the city, Clarke garnered national attention for taking an unconventional view: Ferguson doesn’t represent an epidemic of black men being killed by police.

“We operate in a world where not everything goes right,” Clarke told The Daily Signal. “And I think that’s what we saw in Ferguson.”


8) How Twitter Reacted to Conservative Presidential Pitches at CPAC

With an estimated 10,000 grassroots activists in attendance and hundreds of journalists roaming the halls of CPAC, there’s no shortage of activity on social media. We collected some of the instant reaction on Twitter in words and pictures. Be sure to follow @DailySignal for more.


9) Chris Christie, ‘Not Worried,’ Draws Laughs and Cheers at CPAC

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie brought his straight-talking style to the CPAC stage, downplaying concerns about his recent troubles and casting himself as a man of conviction.

“It’s all, in the end, about standing up for what you believe in,” said Christie, who touted his work to improve the lives of middle-class voters.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie makes an impression at CPAC. (Photo: Ron Sachs/Newscom)

10) Phyllis Schlafly’s Warning About 2016

Longtime conservative activist and Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly was honored in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night on the 50th anniversary of her book, “A Choice, Not an Echo.”

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She dropped by The Daily Signal’s studio Thursday to offer a warning to conservatives about the so-called “kingmakers” who she fears will negatively influence the selection of a Republican presidential candidate.


11) Bobby Jindal Says ISIS Fighters Need to Be ‘Hunted Down and Killed’

While many speakers focused on domestic policy, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal directed his remarks to the fight against terrorism. In a speech sharply criticizing President Obama, Jindal faulted the administration for failing to properly combat ISIS.

“We don’t need a war on international poverty, we need a war on the evil radical Islamic terrorism,” Jindal said.

Sean Hannity interviews Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal during the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Conference Center in Maryland. (Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/McClatchy DC/TNS/Newscom)

12) Congressman: ‘Clean’ Homeland Security Bill Is Dirty

Earlier this week, Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., led an effort to thank House Republican leaders for standing firm in their opposition to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. In a visit to The Daily Signal’s studio Thursday, he reiterated his criticism of a Homeland Security funding bill that lacks language undoing the president’s policy.

“Harry Reid and his Democrats are absolutely responsible for any DHS shutdown,” Duncan told The Daily Signal. “They’ve stopped the ability of a bill to come to the Senate floor.”


CPAC runs through Saturday at the Gaylord National Convention Center, just outside of Washington, D.C. The Daily Signal will be closely following the event. For real-time updates, follow @DailySignal on Twitter and like our Facebook page.

Daily Signal journalists Alex Anderson, Jamie Jackson, Ken McIntyre, Melissa Quinn, Thaleigha Rampersad and Ben Smith contributed to this report.

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