At CPAC this morning, Donald Trump was given the first speaking slot. "The Republican Party is in serious trouble," he said. He complained that the White House didn't give him a contract to build a new ballroom for state dinners. He said that he was remodeling a golf course in Miami to make it "incredible," and that that's what we need to do with America, too.
That was a speaking slot that could have gone to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. But neither of them were invited to CPAC this year. Scattered around the auditorium, in fact, are faux, $6 billion checks signed by "'Lib' Gov. Bob McDonnell". "This is from your bank account," the check reads. It's for "Tax increase: Sales tax, Car tax, etc."
The second speaking slot went to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "It may not seem like it now," he said, "but we're actually winning."
McConnell brought a prop. He was dwarfed on the stage by a seven-foot stack of paper wrapped in a red bow. The leaning tower of printer stock proved to be 20,000 pages of rules and regulations from Obamacare. "This law is a disaster," McConnell said, earning the first big ovation of the day. "Anyone who thinks we've moved beyond it is dead wrong. Obamacare should be repealed root and branch. We're not backing down from this fight."
But between the GOP and victory, McConnell said, lies the counterproductive process of soul-searching and whining that Republicans have occupied themselves with since the election. "Conservatives were not meant to be party of the crybaby conference," he said.
The truth, McConnell continued, was that the Republican Party was fine. "Don't let anybody ever tell you Democrats have the upper hand on issues. I don't care what the polls say."
The audience, kindly, declined to laugh. Few in America care more about the polls, or are better at reading them, then McConnell. But McConnell can't change the polls from the podium of CPAC. What he could do, maybe, was convince conservatives to prize unity over purity.
"Unity is strength," he said. "If you ask how we ended up with government-run health care, unity is how we ended up with government run health care. Unity is how we came within one vote of defeating it on that cold Christmas morning. But unity is also how the Democrats passed it. One vote was the difference between this stack of regulations and the alternative."
The fight to repeal Obamacare is, realistically, over. But the GOP's anger over Obamacare remains — and it will intensify over the next two years as the difficult process of implementation creates daily outrages and mishaps for conservatives to rage against. For Republicans, that process of entrenching and perfecting Obamacare is a terrible defeat. But for Republican politicians, like McConnell, it's a rare opportunity.
"Ladies and gentleman," McConnell drawled, "if there was ever assembled what we're fighting against, this tower is it."
McConnell left the stage to applause. The crowd of conservatives was united. But the imposing stack of Obamacare regulations remained, still wrapped in a red bow. It would take three staffers to maneuver it off.