CPAC Diary: Winning by Losing, and By Carrying Around Big Stacks of Paper

Bad planning and a full notebook have stranded me in the place no reporter needs to be at CPAC: In the press section of the ballroom, listening to speeches that any schmuck can hear on TV. When you need to file, you need to file. The benefit from being in the big room is that you can 1) hear what hecklers are yelling and 2) get a good sense of what plays to a crowd of young conservatives.

Sen. Mitch McConnell was preceded onstage by a 10-foot-tall stack—regulations grown out of Obamacare!—and by the clangy U2 anthem “Beautiful Day.” Republican senators, McConnell said, had done their work this week—“every single one of them” had just voted for an amendment that would have repealed the law. (The amendment failed.)

On Obamacare, McConnell said, “We gave it everything we had, everything we had and we just barely lost the legislative fight.”*

McConnell was truncating some interesting history and counter-history. In 2009, his strategy for killing Obamacare (as a bill) was denying any Republican support for it. The result was a bill that passed with support from only Democrats, a bill that might have been more “liberal” than one co-sponsored by the likes of Mike Enzi or Olympia Snowe. McConnell ruefully remembered that the bill passed by “one vote,” and Republicans would repeal it “root and branch.”

And then: “There won’t be much looking back at this year’s CPAC.” What the what did that mean? McConnell was talking about 2016. The Democrats’ primary would “look like a rerun of ‘The Golden Girls,’” two old white people—Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.* But Republicans had people like Paul Ryan, and they were young—identity crisis solved.

*Correction, March 20, 2013: This post originally quoted Sen. Mitch McConnell as saying, “When it came to Obamacare, we gave it everything we have. Everything we have. And we just lost.”