Walker’s speech was hopeful and optimistic and cheerful. He talked about the success he’s had implementing conservative policies in Wisconsin and how those policies are being imitated in states, counties, and cities across the U.S. It was, in many ways, a speech that felt like a victory lap. Conservatives control local and state politics across the country and are doing conservative things: Walker’s speech was all about how the movement is real and it is working to change the fabric of the nation.
But seen another way, Walker’s speech was incredibly defensive: Rather than touting the mark being made by the right, Walker was attempting to shore up a movement under assault from within its own party. Walker never mentioned Donald Trump by name, but he did say, “Some of you might be confused, or dare I say upset, about what’s happening the presidential election” and “No matter what you think about what’s happening in the presidential election, you can’t give up. We need your help in the states.”
Walker’s right: The conservative movement, for all Donald Trump’s bluster, is doing well in the states. But “You can’t give up” is not quite a triumphalist note—instead, it speaks to an incredible level of insecurity. Expect the specter of Donald Trump to haunt CPAC for the next three days.