John McCain Among the Conservatives
By Joel Achenbach
He got booed, some. But John McCain also got cheered, and most of the time the cheers drowned out the boos to the degree that McCain, making a dramatic appearance before the Conservative Political Action Conference gathering in Washington, might plausibly have felt himself amid allies.
The McCain camp did a bang-up job of packing the hall at the Omni Shoreham Hotel with placard-waving McCain supporters. When Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn introduced McCain, the supporters gave him a rousing standing ovation, even as a number of conventioneers booed and remained seated.
"We should do this more often," McCain said in a scripted quip that he delivered with a rather forced laugh. Speaking with a Teleprompter, he continued down a winding, somewhat disorienting verbal road that a speechwriter conceivably could have straightened out a bit.
"I hope you will pardon my absence last year, and understand that I intended no personal insult to any of you," he said. "I was merely preoccupied with the business of trying to escape the distinction of preseason front-runner for the Republican nomination, which, I'm sure some of you observed, I managed to do in fairly short order. But, now, I again have the privilege of that distinction, and this time I would prefer to hold onto it for a while."
This was, in fact, no longer a front-runner's speech, but a presumptive nominee's speech. McCain congratulated his vanquished foe Mitt Romney on running a spirited campaign. He invited Romney's supporters to support him. He threw in some kind words for Mike Huckabee.
His speech served two functions: acknowledging the many disagreements with the conservative base while trying to highlight the many areas of agreement, and defining the choice that will face the country in the fall.
McCain said he respected the opinions of those who disagreed with him as a matter of firmly held principles. He did not apologize for his positions. But he did acknowledge a communications failure regarding his stance on illegal immigration last year. When he brought up illegal immigration, someone in the crowd loudly booed him, and he paused, and smiled, as supporters began cheering.
The full prepared text of McCain's remarks can be read here.
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