JOHN MCCAIN'S SPEECH at CPAC was surprisingly well-received. Aside from a couple small pockets of boos, McCain got a more than polite applause from the crowd. And one of the interesting things to watch, from my vantage point in the second row, was the handful of anti-McCain attendees who gradually warmed up to him--or at least his message today--as the speech went on. A pair of ladies one row behind me sat on their hands when McCain was introduced and shouted at him a couple times near the beginning of the speech. But they both applauded enthusiastically when he mentioned FISA reform--something that energized the entire crowd because McCain went after Democrats. Even Tom DeLay, who was standing with his arms crossed throughout most of the speech, applauded when McCain spoke of the importance of nominating conservative judges. (DeLay did not clap, however, when McCain promised to root out corruption and end earmarks. Hmmmm.)
After the speech, DeLay told a few reporters that a speech at CPAC could not make up for McCain's record, but he would not rule out voting for him. That might not seem like a big deal unless we recall that DeLay had previously said that McCain "has done more to hurt the Republican party than any elected official I know of." And he'd still consider voting for him?
The scene of the day, however, unfolded just moments after McCain finished speaking in the lobby of the Omni Shoreham Hotel. Six anti-McCain protestors held up signs hoping to attract a crowd. Four of the signs were pre-printed and read: "Stop McCain's Amnesty." The words on the other two were scribbled onto a piece of cardboard with a ballpoint pen. They read: "Join Republicans Against John McCain."
I decided to stand and watch them for about 45 minutes, chatting with CPAC-goers as I did. Over that entire period, one young man (flanked by two friends) asked where he could sign up. The contra-McCainiacs were mostly ignored, but for one group: Journalists. "There are five of these guys and each one is being interviewed by reporters!" said Joseph Stolz, a CPAC attendee, who stood there with me. In fact, each of the six anti-McCain sign-holders spoke to multiple reporters. In all, about 20 reporters came to interview them. It'll be interesting to see how the stories play today. If the interviews are used as part of a piece looking at the relatively small number of anti-McCain CPAC attendees, fair enough. I suspect, though, that we'll see more than a few of those reporters using their interviews to play up the divisions among conservatives over McCain. That's not to suggest that such divisions don't exist. They do. But these vocal McCain opponents were a surprisingly small minority.
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.