Did people walk out when Jeb Bush started speaking at CPAC today in Maryand? Sure. Did he get heckled and booed at times during his q and a with conservative commentator Sean Hannity? Sure. Did Bush more than hold his own with an audience that was ready to embarrass him in front of every national reporter in the country? Yes.
Bush was energetic -- maybe due at least in part to nervousness in facing a testy crowd -- and informed. He refused to back down -- particularly on immigration -- from positions that he knew would be unpopular with the crowd. He insisted that Republicans were good at opposing things but bad at "being for things." He was composed. He was up to the moment. He looked, in a word, presidential.
By contrast, the opposition, which had promised a major walkout when Bush entered the room, seemed to fizzle. Check out this video of the protests -- and count how many reporters there are versus how many actual protesters there are.
Guys in costumes shout "no more bushes" surrounded by press outside Jeb speechA video posted by Zeke Miller (@zekejmiller) on eb 27, 2015 at 11:28am PST
Jeb was also helped by a friendlier-than-I-expected interrogator in Hannity who, while he did ask him about immigration and Common Core, threw the former Florida governor any number of lifelines by touting his conservative record on affirmative action, taxes and school vouchers. (Hannity even added in a Terri Schiavo reference.) And, Bush's campaign team smartly made sure that the CPAC ballroom had its fair share of their own people in it -- ensuring a built-in cheering section to overcome the boos.
Good luck, smart organization and a solid performance in the face of adversity is what successful presidential campaigns are built on. Bush and his team knew they were going into a tough crowd and he (and they) did everything they could to mitigate those issues. Does that mean Bush won a bunch of converts in a room packed with an amalgam of libertarians, social conservatives and young people just there to have a good time? Probably not. But he didn't -- and doesn't -- need to in order to be the nominee. What he has to do is convince those folks that he's not nearly as different from them as they might think.
Bush was, by far, the best that I've seen him in his just-started presidential campaign. Gone was the somewhat-bumbling, uncertain speech-giver. (He did make a weird reference to campaign finance law and an odd joke about the weather in Miami, for what it's worth.) In its place was a politician of conviction who had total command of who he was and what he believed. CPAC is a win for Bush -- the first one in front of people who might actually vote in a Republican primary he's had.