I recall being at the 2008 CPAC Conference on the day before President Bush was set to address the gathering for the only time during his presidency and seeing people lining up outside the main conference room preparing to camp out all night in order to get a seat to see him speak the following morning.
While attendees were thrilled to have Bush in attendance at CPAC, it looks like Bush did not necessarily share their excitement, at least according to this piece by Byron York on a new book written by former White House speechwriter Matt Latimer:
Bush was preparing to give a speech to the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. The conference is the event of the year for conservative activists; Republican politicians are required to appear and offer their praise of the conservative movement.
Latimer got the assignment to write Bush’s speech. Draft in hand, he and a few other writers met with the president in the Oval Office. Bush was decidedly unenthusiastic.
“What is this movement you keep talking about in the speech?” the president asked Latimer.
Latimer explained that he meant the conservative movement — the movement that gave rise to groups like CPAC.
Bush seemed perplexed. Latimer elaborated a bit more. Then Bush leaned forward, with a point to make.
“Let me tell you something,” the president said. “I whupped Gary Bauer’s ass in 2000. So take out all this movement stuff. There is no movement.”
Bush seemed to equate the conservative movement — the astonishing growth of conservative political strength that took place in the decades after Barry Goldwater’s disastrous defeat in 1964 — with the fortunes of Bauer, the evangelical Christian activist and former head of the Family Research Council whose 2000 presidential campaign went nowhere.
Now it was Latimer who looked perplexed. Bush tried to explain.
“Look, I know this probably sounds arrogant to say,” the president said, “but I redefined the Republican Party.”
The Oval Office is no place for a low-ranking White House staffer to get into an argument with the president of the United States about the state of the Republican Party — or about any other subject, for that matter. Latimer made the changes the president wanted. When Bush appeared at CPAC, he made no mention of the conservative movement. In fact, he said the word “conservative” only once, in the last paragraph.