3:20 PM: Ted Cruz is absolutely running for President in 2020.

Cruz ran onto the stage with that candidate look, waving and spreading his arms wide to make himself look bigger than he is. “I love CPAC!” he shouted, and for the first time since I entered the press pen, the conversation was about guns. Interviewer Ben Domenech related an episode of The Simpsons, in which Lisa instructs her family that the Second Amendment means that “The KIng of England can’t push us around.”  “The Democrats say the King of England isn’t going to come push us around,” Domenech ended; “What do you say?”

Cruz answered, “The Democrats are The Simpsons of politics.” As the applause began to roll, he reassured the crowd that the Democrats want to “confiscate your guns.”

“You want to see crime take off?” he continued. “Take weapons from law abiding citizens.” As the applause died down, he advocated for new tough on crime approaches where “we come down on criminals like a ton of bricks.”

Domenec then asked what Cruz thought about Donald Trump’s proposal to ban bump stocks, and passing legislation that allowed teachers to carry weapons in the classroom. Avoiding the bump stock question, Cruz answered: “I think it makes perfect sense that if teachers exercise their right to bear arms, it can only make schools safer.” (applause.)

And this is where I noticed that unlike many of the other guests, Cruz not only did not mention Donald Trump’s name, he also took every opportunity to recount his own accomplishments: he raised the 2013 Grassley-Cruz school safety funding bill, authored as an alternative to Democratic gun control legislation as a freshman, and filibustered by the Democrats. In fact, Cruz never said the words “Trump” or “President” during the entire twenty minutes he was on stage.

Asked about reports that the Parkland shooter had been reported to federal and local authorities, Cruz declined the opportunity to criticize either the FBI or local law enforcement, and instead changed the subject to the tragic 2017 Sutherland Springs shooting in his own state, describing it so movingly you would have thought he was there. Cruz then pointed out that the Sutherland shooter had bought his gun illegally, and that it was Barack Obama’s fault. Although the shooter had two felonies, Cruz said, “The Air Force, under President Obama, failed to report him to the federal data base.” Cruz then stated that the Obama administration, as a matter of policy, did not prosecute people who tried to buy guns illegally.

Expressing regret at the failure to repeal Obamacare, Cruz pointed out that “even Bill Clinton” thought it was a bad system, which I thought was an odd diversion. Except that it was a setup! “About the only time I even agreed with Bill Clinton,” Cruz said thoughtfully, pausing. Then he grinned mischievously. “Except about Hillary!” As Cruz laughed at his own joke, the crowd exploded with prolonged applause and cheers.

“I LOVE CPAC!” Cruz shouted, as the crowd got even louder.

As the applause finally died down, Domenech pointed to all the young people in the crowd, and asked Cruz about his thoughts on millennials. “I call young people Generation Freedom,” Cruz replied, and expressed his sympathy that they had to attend “colleges run by sixties hippies who are imposing a draconian speech code.” The crowd leaped to its feet cheering.  “Speak the truth!” Cruz exhorted them. “Spread the fire of Liberty! Everythone should be free! The Internet should be free! Freedom works! I love CPAC” As the crowd screamed and cheered, Cruz jumped up waving and left the stage to booming rock music.

Ted Cruz is so. Totally. Running. For President. In 2020.

1:55 PM: Taking a little break from Tweeting (you can follow me here) to summarize some themes of #CPAC2018.

  • So-called radical Islam. Nearly every panel seems to get back to it in one way or another, and that there is a clear and pressing danger regardless of how diminished ISIS is: in addition, this delivers the misimpression is that all Islam is radical Islam. Zuhdi Jasser, of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, argued against what he called the “whack a mole” military strategies that have been pursued since 2000, but a broad cultural offensive on behalf of American style freedom and liberty in the Islamic world. Which reminds me a little bit of Cold War cultural front strategies — which may have worked, but it took about 50 years. Do we have 50 years? Also, no mention of growing authoritarianism in Russia and eastern Europe.
  • That the Trump presidency is a great success — but would be even a better success if he were not hamstrung by his detractors and by the “administrative state.” Occasional infomercials from Judicial Watch, one of the sponsors, reinforce this message by reminding us about their mission: cleaning up government corruption and making sure that those employed by the federal government are not undermining the American people. This tension between the joy of having elected Donald Trump and the palpable frustration that so little of the conservative agenda has been accomplished is interesting. I am reminded of that fallow period between passage of the Republican tax bill in 1981 and the 1984 election, during which conservatives urged Congress that change would be rapid if the White House staff would just let “Reagan be Reagan.” What we now know is that everyone in the West Wing was stamping their feet waiting for the president to tell them what he wanted them to do.
  • Elected politicians are notably absent from the program. An intern from the Washington Examiner (I’ve been teaching him how to tweet) pointed out that there were only four members of Congress speaking over the course of three days. I thought this was a smart observation, particularly considering that there is an election coming up in less than nine months and you would think they would want to be more visible. But apparently not.

The most recent speakers — White House counsel Don McGahn and Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta — have spent some of their time explaining to the crowd how the government works which, given that the majority of the audience seems to be younger than 30, is probably useful. Another interesting factoid: when Kay Cole James of the Heritage Foundation introduced Alex Acosta as a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, she invited the crowd to clap and they declined to do so. It was — pointed.

11:56 AM: Note to self: never miss the morning prayers at CPAC. I got here a little before 10, and the Secret Service had the building locked down for the Veep until 11:30. For reasons no one understands they let us in at 10:30 — perhaps because the Gaylord Convention Center is dripping with police — Capitol Police, Secret Service, TSA — you name a uniform, they are here. So here I am, sitting outside the main hall, waiting for Marion Maréchal-Le Pen at 11:55.

OK, really I could go in and listen to Sebastian Gorka, who is clearly out of the White House but not out of the fold, but I thought I would catch up with my blogging.

While waiting outside, I met JD Miniear and his charming wife Kristina Lamb Miniear: he’s running to unseat Democrat Andre Carson in Indiana’s 7th Congressional District, and she’s pastor of the Restoring Hope Community Church. Kristina works in prisons and homeless shelters, with trafficked teens and addicts. They are good people. JD is currently a loan officer at an Indianapolis bank, with an intense interest in EMP, otherwise known as electro magnetic pulse which, he explained to me, is what happens if a hostile country explodes a nuclear weapon over your head (it can also happen during a lightening strike.) This causes the electrical grid to fry unless it is hardened — which military grids are, but civilian grids — where the military gets its electricity — aren’t. He thinks this would be a win-win infrastructure project, and without knowing anything about it, he had me persuaded that it was important.

Miniear’s opponent, Carson, is clearly a rising member of the Democratic Caucus and one of only two Muslims serving in Congress: he’s also a member of the Emerging Threats Subcommittee. This is a concern for the Miniears, because they believe that Carson has associations with a range of dangerous entities, from Hamas to the Muslim brotherhood, and that he receives funding from Islamic groups. Miniear is also concerned about an IT worker, recently fired, who is being investigated, who they say is from Pakistan (you can read this story in Politico, which alleges that this man was one of a group of men working for several Democratic members, and that it is equipment theft — not security breaches — that are being investigated.)

So what’s the lesson? Miniear argues that security is the big issue he wants to tackle in Congress — EMP is a big one, but he argues that there should be “stiff metrics on who gets access to information.” In this vein, “the Secret Service also needs to be remade.” But honestly? This stuff is soft, EMP is solid. Miniear is so knowledgeable about the electrical grid, and so passionate about it and its connection to good jobs, I think it’s too bad that it isn’t an issue that tweets well. In a better political world it would be. I want him to run on it.

9:00 A.M. For those of you not familiar with it, “CPAC” stands for Conservative Political Action Conference, an event that was launched in 1973 by Young Americans for Freedom and the American Conservative Union, two organizations that were both founded by William F. Buckley. The original purpose was to bring the conservative movement together and set an agenda. It’s also an interesting gauge of who is in and who is out: in 2011, for example The John Birch Society (which still exists) was a cosponsor, as was GOProud, the first LGBT group to have that role.

By 2012 the Birchers (as my mother used to call them) and GOProud were out, but a special guest from 2011, Donald Trump, who had been asked to address the General Session, was very, very in. In 2016, the gays were back in — this time it was the Log Cabin Republican, plus an invitation to gay provocatuer Milo Yiannopoulos, who was then promptly disinvited when a YouTube video that everybody apparently knew about, in which Milo cheerfully discussed his childhood affair with a Catholic priest, was reposted by a conservative aggregator site called The Reagan Battalion. Talk about a place where left and right came together: Milo was roundly trashed as having promoted pedophilia, and embarrassing the entire gay community, which I thought was dumb, because that isn’t what he said. But talking about sex has never been a strength of the American people.

This year there are no LGBT sponsors, although Log Cabin Republicans is listed as an exhibitor. I will visit them, I promise.

However, the NRA is a major sponsor this year, as are many of the organizations you would expect: the Heritage Foundation, Young America’s Foundation (the rebranded Young Americans for Freedom), The Republican National Committee, and Turning Point USA. But the biggest sponsor is Liberty Health Share, “a community of health-conscious people who practice longstanding Christian principles in sharing healthcare costs.” Liberty Health Share, the website assures you, “is not insurance. It simply unites like-minded people to share medical costs together.”

Not an insurance company? No, really, it isn’t an insurance company: it’s a mutual aid society that you can’t join if you smoke or are an addict or don’t treat your body like a temple. For $150 a month, the company will, among other things, assign you a coach to help you reverse chronic diseases through “lifestyle changes, dedication and determination.” This is the kind of thing I hope to learn more about: is this a scam run by a latter day Elmer Gantry, or is it really a health care company designed on principles of Christian faith and conservative personal responsibility? And more intriguingly, is this part of what has been at stake all along in the battle against Obamacare? I’ll tell you more when I meet them.

OK: stay tuned. I am still in transit to the meeting hall and haven’t got my credentials yet, so I will miss the first panel (“An Affair to Remember: How the Far Left and the Mainstream Media Got in Bed Together”) and probably the second (“Do Not Pass Go! How the Government is Killing Capitalism”) but am hoping to be in place for Veep Mike Pence at 10:35. The most controversial speaker today is Marion Maréchal-Le Pen of France’s National Front. You can read about why some conservatives are upset about it in this article by Bill Wirtz of The American Conservative (February 21 2018).

This column moves to the feature box at noon, when Le Pen takes the stage.