The Conservative Political Action Conference is two-thirds over and has already provided many eyebrow-raising moments. From the return of Mitt Romney, to Donald Trump’s speech to a half empty ballroom, to Wayne LaPierre accusing his critics of “insanity,” here’s a sampling of the most memorable moments:
1. Louie Gohmert insisting “Vietnam was winnable”
During a panel called “Too many American wars? Should we fight anywhere and can we afford it?” the Texas Republican congressman insisted that “Vietnam was winnable, but people in Washington decided we would not win it.” He then criticized America for not going to war with Iran over the 1979 capture of the U.S. Embassy. “If you go to war, you better mean it,” he said.
2. Marco Rubio: I’m not a ‘bigot’ when it comes to ‘traditional’ marriage
In Marco Rubio’s world, discriminating against gays is not a form of prejudice. “Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot,” the Florida senator said during his CPAC speech. He argued that those who are close-minded in American politics are those who “love to preach about the certainty of science in regards to our climate, but ignore the absolute fact that science has proven that life begins at conception.”
3. CPAC Chair: Christie ‘didn’t deserve to be here.’
CPAC has come under fire for not inviting popular New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to the event, which is seen as a stepping stone for Republicans wanting to run for president. Al Cardenas, head of the American Conservative Union–which runs CPAC – said Monday that “for better or for worse, we felt like [Christie] didn’t deserve to be on the all-star selection, and for decisions that he made.” Cardenas didn’t close the door entirely: “And so hopefully next year he’s back on the right track and being a conservative.”
4. Mitt Romney says to look to GOP governors for leadership
The failed Republican candidate spoke at CPAC on Friday, his first public address since his election night concession speech. Romney didn’t exactly throw red meat to the crowd, offering bland optimism about America’s future but failing to spell out a vision for the GOP or conservatism. Romney name-checked Governors Christie and Bob McDonnell of Virginia—the most prominent not-invited lawmakers. “We need the ideas and leadership of each of these governors,” Romney said.
5. Perry, Paul and Rubio skewer Romney
The audience gave Mitt Romney warm applause. The speakers who followed him weren’t so kind. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio all sought to distance themselves from the failed candidate. Perry said “the popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideas, as evidence by the last two presidential elections… That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012.” Paul said, “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered. I don’t think we need to name any names here, do we?” And Rubio seemed to reference Romney’s damning 47% video. “Our people have not changed,” the Tea Party favorite said. “The vast majority of the American people are hard-working taxpayers who take responsibility for their families, go to work every day, they pay their mortgage on time, they volunteer in their community. This is where the vast majority of the American people are.”
6. Trump’s speech to a half empty ballroom
If CPAC organizers were betting that Donald Trump’s name would sell tickets, they lost big. His speech on Friday morning was sparsely attended. “We’re run by either very foolish or very stupid people,” said Trump. “What’s going on in this country is unbelievable. Our country is a total mess, a total and complete mess, and what we need is leadership.” He also skewered Republican strategist Karl Rove and his super PAC American Crossroads: “When you spend $400 million and it’s a failure, and you don’t have one victory, you know there’s something seriously, seriously wrong.”
7. Wayne LaPierre: Gun control supporters are insane, not me
After being called crazy by his critics, the CEO of the National Rifle Association insisted he’s not the one with loose screws in his he. “They call me crazy, yet the people doing the finger-pointing are doing things that are absolutely bizarre.” He added, “It’s time to take a look at the insanity that’s consumed the media and too many in this town.” Since December’s mass shooting in Newtown, LaPierre has argued that more guns, not fewer, are the answer.
8. Rep. Cotton: Iraq and Afghanistan ‘not responsible for’ debt
Despite reports saying the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has cost our country at least $1.7 trillion, freshman Congressman Tom Cotton of Arkansas said the costs in Iraq and Afghanistan are “relatively low.” During a CPAC panel, Cotton insisted, “We must afford [the wars].” He added, ”We certainly have a staggering national debt. Our military is not responsible for that. As a historic average of a percent of our economy and federal spending, it’s still relatively low. It’s projected to trend downward.”