Yours truly, though a lifelong Southern Democrat, is enough of a "Reagan Democrat" to have merited an invitation to the Red State Gathering this weekend. I was there with Uncle Jimbo, and we had an excellent time. The main feature was a set of speeches and Q&A with many of the Republican Presidential candidates. (Jim Webb, the leading Southern Democrat, did not attend and was probably not invited, but it would have been nice if he had been.) I'm going to give you my sense of them.
Donald Trump was going to speak on Saturday evening, but did not appear because Erick Erickson told him he was no longer welcome. This was because of Trump's remarks about a female reporter, which were as rude as they could possibly have been. We don't speak of ladies in that way in Georgia, and Erickson properly told him not to darken the door.
Before that, however, Trump had already made a small splash. What I heard from a sponsor was that the conference had been trying to get him to appear early on the first day, as Trump has his own 757 and could be there before anyone else. Trump's people refused, as they didn't want to have him speak early in the morning. So they the conference tried to schedule him at some other time, but his people put them off until all the slots were filled. Then Trump's people decided they wanted him to come, so the conference tried to help him by allowing him to speak at a separate location from the conference proper (the College Football Hall of Fame) where they were having the closing party. Trump's people accepted, and immediately began to tell reporters that he was the "keynote" speaker, and that Red State 'had to rent a larger hall to accommodate all his crowds.'
Of the serious Presidential candidates, Jeb Bush was clearly the media favorite. The press mobbed him like no one else. He had almost no support in the hall, though: I only met one professed Jeb Bush supporter, a guy in a red-white-and-blue suit and tie ensemble who had purchased red, white, and blue custom leather wing-tip dress shoes to go with it.
Fiorina was a crowd favorite, but everyone is worried about her experience problem. She could help herself a lot if she could put together a kitchen cabinet because people would be much readier to support her if they knew she had top, competent people who had committed to being in her corner.
Rick Perry was there without a security detail. But, you know, he carries.
Uncle J was pleased by Walker, long his favored candidate, whom he thought presented himself as competent, experienced, and a proven winner.
For me, the two best speeches were given by Rubio and Cruz. They were quite different speeches. Both of them sounded like Ronald Reagan, but different Reagans.
Rubio's was a solid General Election speech. It was warm, hopeful, moving, filled with references to family and hope and economic progress. It reminded me of the later Reagan, the Reagan of his Farewell address in which he summed up all that America had accomplished in his tenure. You came away feeling like Rubio had a similar Morning-in-America vision, and honestly believes he could turn things around and make the place shine again.
Cruz did not give a speech of that kind. Cruz is out for blood.
His speech was a Reagan Insurgency speech, the kind of speech Reagan might have given before he won the nomination in 1980. Cruz is as angry at the Republican leadership in the Senate as he is at the Democrats. He outright accused them, in exactly these words, of "playing for the other team." He is furious about the direction of the country, and is committed to overthrowing the Republican leadership, gaining the Presidency, and overturning everything Obama ever did.
The crowd was really feeling it. They reacted to that speech like no other thing I saw. These people are out for blood too.