The summit was attended by, according to organizers, 3600 plus people who came from all 50 states. AFP focuses on economic issues, particularly removing regulations and allowing the marketplace to operate without impediment. An example would be fighting state and local taxicab regulations that are being used to try to shut down private enterprises like Uber. Lest anyone thinks these are uncontroversial issues that Republicans can win on, AFP has also promoted right to work laws and challenges to prevailing wage laws. Those issues split off some labor supporting Republicans and GOP politicians. Most notable among those is Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich who was criticized by some presenters at the convention for his failure thus far to support right to work and other labor reform measures.
Five presidential candidates appeared at the forum and spoke: former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and former Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Bush's reception was polite. He spoke entirely in front of the podium, going from one side of the crowd to another. The presentation came across as a bit over rehearsed. Unlike every other speaker, Bush didn't talk about the humble circumstances of his family's background - undoubtedly because he didn't have that background. He threw a little red meat out to the crowd on some social issues, like the Planned Parenthood controversy, but avoided topics that might be divisive with the crowd. Behind me a woman would periodically yell out "What About Common Core?" the nationalized education standards Bush supported that have become anathema to many conservatives. Bush's speech didn't gain any supporters in the crowd, but it probably didn't lose what little support he had in the crowd before he started.
Next up that first day was Governor Jindal. Jindal started out slowly. talking about his Indian immigrant parents and how they embrace the United States because of the opportunity this country provided them to succeed via hard work. Jindal talked about his record in Louisiana in terms of economic development. Jindal then turned to social issues, talking about his unwavering support for religious freedom. The one that won over the crowd was Jindal's reporting what happened just a day or two earlier. A crowd of Planned Parenthood supporters had showed up at the Governor's residence. to protest Jindal's cancelling of the state's PP contracts. Jindal responded by setting up big TVs to screen the Center for Medical Progress' Planned Parenthood videos for them. Needless to say the PP supporters couldn't stomach watching the videos so they moved further away from the residence. By the end of Jindal's speech he had won over the crowd. People rushed the stage to shake his hand.
On the second day the opening speaker was Cruz. Cruz was easily the most popular presidential candidate at the convention. He spoke entirely in front of the podium and connected well while dishing out red meat to the conservative audience, telling them all he would do on his first day in office. Cruz sometimes comes across as a bit dowdy on the campaign trail, but when given the opportunity to talk at length he is a dynamic speaker.
|Texas Senator Ted Cruz|
Last up was Perry. The ex-Governor from the Lone Star state started out talking about his own humble background. He then spoke about the economic success Texas had when the rest of the country was struggling through the Great Recession. Perry took some jabs at unnamed Republican Governors running for President (undoubtedly Walker and Bush) who supported certain things in office and something else entirely on the presidential campaign trail. Perry consistently tied his views to his record, for example saying he was opposed to Common Core and accepting federal Race to the Top money from the beginning. Perry then started telling touching personal stories of his talking to WW II veterans and viewing where U.S. soldiers landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. When Perry did that he left the podium to walk toward and reach out to the audience, a move that gave his comments greater impact than if he had stayed behind the podium the entire time or never used it at all. Of all the speakers, I would rate Perry the best with Cruz second and Bush last. Perry certainly won over many in the crowd. Unfortunately for Perry though it is probably too late to save his campaign.
The presidential candidate discussed the most at the conference was Donald Trump. I heard a considerable number of favorable comments about Trump. But I also overheard numerous conversations of attendees trying to educate other conservatives on Trump's numerous statements on economic and social issues which demonstrate Trump was a liberal in the not so distant past. I left with the impression that half the conservatives at the event (almost all of whom are very much anti-GOP establishment) wanted Trump as the nominee, while the other half will support anyone but Trump as the nominee.