This weekend’s national Americans for Prosperity Defending the American Dream Summit was my first AFP meeting ever…but it won’t be my last. It was conveniently located in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, but in all truthfulness, I will probably make an effort to go to future events regardless of location.
AFP does a wonderful job of coordinating and educating conservatives on policy issues and grassroots efforts, something that few other organizations on the conservative side have ever achieved. The only organizations in America that I can really compare them to are the Unions…who have far more money and extensive structural advantages handed to them. If you have any interest getting involved in grassroots efforts, AFP is as good a place to start as any.
The focus of these type of meetings always resides in its top speakers…and this weekend did not disappoint. So who were the winners and losers?
Senator Ted Cruz: He and Bobby Jindal received the most applause and pure excitement of the weekend, hands down. As for Cruz, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the first word, ready to burst in excitement. Cruz certainly delivered the red meat: on immigration, foreign policy, Hillary Clinton..he hit every significant note that a conservative audience would demand.
Governor Bobby Jindal: This is the third time that I have seen Jindal in person. I have never been enamored with his cadence or talking points. But I will wholly admit that this was, by far, the best speech I have seen Jindal give. It was targeted, focused, to the point….and moved the crowd. The crowd was happy to see him at the beginning, but certainly not as enthusiastic as with Cruz. However, by the end of the speech, Jindal had them on the edge of their seats, ready to burst from their chairs in applause. I think he certainly helped himself here, but considering his languishing poll numbers, it is probably far too little, too late.
Senator Marco Rubio: Rubio, unlike Cruz and Jindal, decided on a more sedate, policy focused speech. He talked extensively about education and the need to reform student loans; about the economy, and how the evolution of the modern economy requires that we evolve as a nation as well; and about the American Dream, a common focus of his speeches. Rubio’s greatest applause lines came when talking about the greatness of America…and jokes about Hillary Clinton (server jokes were aplenty at the conference). Rubio helped himself at AFP, but on the excitement meter, he was certainly one step below the aforementioned.
Governor Jeb Bush: By far, the biggest loser of the weekend. When he started his speech…virtually nobody applauded, other than the few intrepid souls in the audience like myself that thought it was simply polite. There was no excitement in the audience to hear what Jeb had to say. The real irony? This was one of his better speeches. He was correct on policy, and the speech was well crafted. The big problem for Bush is simple: there is no excitement from the base for his candidacy at all, and I am not sure how he rectifies that going forward.
Governor Rick Perry: I was hesitant to put Perry in this category. I think he gave a fine speech, focusing on the economic revival in Texas, and why it is important to choose someone with a record of success. However, he simply could not rival Cruz or Jindal in excitement, nor could he rival Rubio on policy. I really want to like Perry, but his inability to get this ‘home field’ crowd excited bores ill for his future prospects.
The name that hovered in the shadows through out the conference, but was barely mentioned? Donald Trump.
I think even in this hard-core conservative environment, no more than one out of every five people were even open to the idea of Trump. When people would try to cheer for Trump in one manner or another…the large majority of people simply politely remained silent. Much like Bush, I can’t see how Trump would ever motivate these base voters.
I think coming out of this weekend, Cruz and Jindal were the big winners, though Cruz is obviously in a better position in the polls to take advantage of that. Rubio helped himself marginally. The tenor of the conference was quite clear though: the participants were angry (not furious or out of control, but a feeling of massive general discontent), and they want a conservative voice to fuel the next generation. Which ever candidate can tap into that is going to have a powerful message going forward.