With Chris Christie out and Donald Trump in, politicos nationwide had their eyes glued to the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend to see if the annual conclave would do more harm than good to a soul-searching Republican Party. And now that the three-day affair is in our rear-view mirror, it seems safe to say that the gathering was something of a mixed bag for Republicans, with several rising stars shining in the spotlight, and a few embarrassing speeches earning unwelcome headlines. So for those who weren't hanging on every word of the event's 70-plus speeches, here are CPAC's 10 most memorable moments.
1. Republicans stand with Rand
Fresh off his epic filibuster, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul squeezed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to win the presidential straw poll, earning 25 percent to Rubio's 23 percent. Does that mean Paul is at the head of the 2016 class? Not necessarily. As the Christian Science Monitor's Linda Feldmann points out, half the voters in the small, non-scientific sample were between the ages of 18 and 25, a demographic that is "hardly typical of the Republican electorate" and more likely to support libertarian candidates like Paul. Still, Paul certainly seems ready to mix things up in a Republican Party he said has "has grown stale and moss-covered."
2. Sarah Palin brings out the Big Gulp
Forget politics. Maybe Sarah Palin has a future in late-night comedy, at least judging from the crowd reaction to her Saturday speech packed with anti-Obama zingers and even a boob joke about Christmas presents. ("Todd got the rifle and I got the rack!") At one point, Palin pulled out a Big Gulp and took a sip, a not-so-subtle jab at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's thwarted ban on super-sized sugary drinks. Palin's fans gave her a standing ovation, but some moderate conservatives, like the Daily Beast's David Frum, griped that "like her jumbo soda, her 20-minute speech was filled with empty calories."
3. Ben Carson shows why he could be a conservative star
Last month, Ben Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, raised some eyebrows by giving a speech bashing ObamaCare at the National Prayer Breakfast — right in front of President Obama. And at CPAC on Saturday, he hinted at a future political career, and got several standing ovations during a speech in which he advocated for "a flat income tax and called for an end to the 'war on God,'" according to the Baltimore Sun. Despite being a relative newcomer on the political scene, Carson tied with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for seventh place in the CPAC straw poll.
4. The Tea Party warns of America's Hunger Games future
President Obama is leading our nation into a terrifying, authoritarian future in which an all-knowing, Hunger Games-like government demands massive "contributions" from its put-upon, over-controlled citizenry... at least in the imagination of the Tea Party Patriots. The group told Slate's David Weigel that it made this sci-fi move trailer to appeal to "younger people, people who were in high school when this started." Filmmaker Luke Livingston claimed to Slate that "A Movement On Fire" had already inspired $1 million in donations.
5. Donald Trump suggests we take Iraq's oil
During his speech to a half-empty room, Donald Trump made headlines by suggesting that we "pay ourselves back" for the Iraq war by taking the country's oil, according to CNN. He also went off on a tangent about the Doral Golf Resort, which he recently purchased, boasting, according to New York, that "I'm going to make it incredible." Matt Wells of The Guardian put it best: "Every conference needs a good troll."
6. Mitt Romney apologizes for not getting elected
"I am sorry that I will not be your president," said Mitt Romney, according to the AP. "We may not have carried on Nov. 7, but we have not lost the country we love, and we have not lost our way." Of course, many Republicans have already moved on from Mitt. As The Huffington Post pointed out, Fox News didn't even bother to broadcast Romney's Friday speech.
7. Rick Santorum accuses Obama of embracing the values of the French Revolution
President Obama as Robespierre? That's the idea Rick Santorum peddled as he told a large crowd that Obama wants to "exchange the 'why' of the American revolution for the 'why' of the French revolution" — essentially by refusing to believe that our rights are God-given, according to Red Alert Politics. "They replaced the sovereign king with the sovereign mob, which led to the guillotine," Santorum warned. Of course, Santorum is no stranger to controversial utterances, so don't take his warning as proof that the Democratic Party is rolling out a "Reign of Terror 2016" campaign slogan.
8. NRA chief Wayne LaPierre fires back
Haters gonna hate. That was pretty much the message that much-maligned NRA boss Wayne LaPierre gave during his CPAC speech:
Gun control advocates "insult [us], they denigrate, and they call us 'crazy' for holding fast to [our opposition to gun control]. In their distorted view of the world, they're smarter than we are; they're special; they're more worthy than we are; they know better than we do," he said. "The liberal media can keep hating on me, but I'm still standing." [Huffington Post]
9. GOProud crashes the party
In the wake of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) publicly declaring his support for gay marriage, GOProud organizer Jimmy LaSalvia tried to turn his gay rights group's CPAC snub into something positive by speaking at a panel in the same building as CPAC. The consensus at the "overly crowded" event, according to the Daily Beast, was that the GOP had to change its attitude towards gay rights or risk losing voters. "As a conservative, whenever the federal government imposes one vision of how people want to live, that's wrong, whether liberal, conservative, straight or gay," said Jonah Goldberg, editor of the National Review Online, according to the Daily Beast. U.S. News & World Report now says that CPAC organizers are working to officially bring GOProud back to the lineup after being excluded for two years in a row.
10. Newt Gingrich wields a candlestick
Not to be outdone by Sarah Palin's Big Gulp, Newt Gingrich took the stage holding a candlestick and lightbulb and urged the GOP to stop being "trapped in the age of candles" and "enter the age of the lightbulb," according to The Guardian. His plea to stop being the "anti-everything party" echoed a less prop-heavy speech by Jeb Bush, who, according to The Hill, lamented that "way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on."