TIME 2016 Election

Rand Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll, Scott Walker Takes Second

Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

Sen. Rand Paul won the Conservative Political Action Conference for the third year in a row, but the real action was in second place, where Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took the honors.

Paul’s victory, with 26% percent of the vote, was widely expected due to the throngs of young, libertarian-minded attendees. (He won 25% of the vote in 2013 and 31% in 2014.) But Walker’s second-place win showed the Midwesterner’s growing credibility among conservatives.

In securing 21% of the vote, Walker is sure to ignite more buzz as he seeks to appeal to both the party’s wealthy elite and its conservative base. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush may be dominating the fundraising primary, but Walker is picking up support among the party’s grassroots.

Walker’s continued rise has only pressured the more moderate Chris Christie, who placed 10th with the unfriendly audience and is finding his path to the nomination narrowed by Walker and Bush.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose fiery brand of conservatism appeals particularly to the CPAC attendee, placed third with 12% of the vote.

But the straw poll’s results are hardly predictive of the GOP primaries, providing only a murky window into the polarized political party. Only registered attendees are provided a code with which to vote, turning campaign staffers and volunteers into temporary travel agents.

Bush came in fifth with 8% of the vote. He faced a skeptical crowd at CPAC, where the conservative base views the Bush heir as an establishment figure backed by Washington D.C.’s power brokers. Many view his support of the Common Core education standards and immigration reform with suspicion, and his appearance on Friday punctuated was by heckles and jeers.

Busing in supporters to pack the audience and juice the vote in the straw poll is a longstanding CPAC tradition. On Friday crowds of young students descended on the Convention Center, bused in by Bush allies who helped them obtain passes to the conference when he spoke.

Paul and Cruz’s PACs organized discounted registrations and hotel rooms nearby for young attendees, who play an outsized role in swaying the poll’s results.

Jeb’s fifth place finish, despite a coordinated effort to boost his support, highlights a central challenge of his campaign: convincing conservatives that he is one of them. Bush aides believe that once the candidate has time to share his record in Florida that conservatives will warm to him.

Bush will travel to Iowa next week for the first time this cycle, where he is expected to receive another wary reception.

The poll surveyed 3007 CPAC attendees between Wednesday and Saturday, a 22% increase over the previous year. Nearly half the voters were ages 18 to 25, indicating a heavy presence on college-age Republicans. Walker, whose son Matt is Midwest vice chairman for the College Republican National Committee, relied heavily on the student vote.

TIME 2016 Election

Conservatives Mostly Silent on Gay Marriage at CPAC

Ted Cruz CPAC
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Ted Cruz speaks on stage at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 26, 2015.

Don't ask, don't tell

It’s a momentous time for gay marriage. Every few weeks a federal judge orders a state — most recently, deep-red Alabama — to recognize same-sex unions, bringing the total to 37. The Supreme Court could expand that nationwide with a ruling sometime this summer. But you wouldn’t know that from the discussions at a gathering of conservative activists this week.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, talk of gay marriage was either brief or nonexistent. When prospective candidates brought up the issue, it was to quickly note their disapproval before moving onto another topic. Gone were the fiery speeches of just a few years ago.

“Marriage is a question for the states, and it is wrong for the federal government or unelected judges to tear down the marriage laws of the sates,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said in a brief response to a question by Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday.

Attendees at CPAC, many of them young libertarians, are unenthusiastic about the family values moralizing that pervaded much of the conservative discussion on gay marriage over the past decade. At a small breakout session on marriage, some CPAC attendees loudly booed a speaker who advocated continuing the fight against marriage equality.

“Any outright condemnation of gay people is not just a non-starter with general electorate, but also with the conservative base here at CPAC,” Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of the conservative gay-rights group Log Cabin Republicans, told TIME. “It’s something that doesn’t resonate.”

One reason for the change at CPAC is the broader changes in public opinion. According to a Gallup poll taken in May last year, 55% of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal, with just 42% opposing. That’s a complete reversal of public opinion from 2004, when just 42% supported gay marriage and 55% opposed.

Gay marriage was once a rallying cry for conservatives at CPAC, much as it was on the national stage. In 2006, then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist vowed at CPAC to pass a constitutional ban of gay marriage.

Anti-gay marriage displays were much more common in previous years, such as one by the Traditional Values coalition in 2004, which featured a woman dressed as a bride serving wedding cake. Traditional Values’ chairman, a prominent conservative said at the conference that year, “Babylon is symbolic of promiscuity, hedonism and homosexuality,” according to a report in Salon at the time.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose emerging presidential campaign has attracted moderate voices on gay marriage, appeared reluctant to speak about the topic just days hiring as his director of communications the strategist Tim Miller, who is gay. Hannity asked Bush whether his views on the issue have changed.

“I believe in traditional marriage,” Bush said curtly, without elaborating.

It was a contrast even with CPAC in 2014, when former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum reached out to evangelicals, saying “I want to talk about reclaiming marriage as a good for society and celebrating how important it is for our economy.” This year, Santorum devoted his speech to ISIS and foreign policy.

Young attendees at CPAC largely expressed support for gay marriage.

One young attendee and activist, Drew Constable, was adamant. “Any two consenting adults should be able to marry,” Constable said.

TIME 2016 Election

CPAC: 12 Takeaways As The GOP Presidential Race Takes Off

Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Supporters watch Rand Paul speak at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

Checking the scoreboard on day three

There’s still a straw poll winner to announce, but the biggest story lines at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference have already unfolded. Here are the 12 big takeaways from the annual gathering:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker kept the momentum alive. Riding a wave of fresh support after his Iowa debut last month, Walker was the talk of the conference and emerged even stronger despite a dust-up over comparing union protesters to ISIS fighters.

The hawkish GOP is back. The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has tempered the dovish streak percolating within the party, as speaker after speaker advocated a more muscular approach to fighting the terrorist group.

That could spell trouble for Rand Paul. The Kentucky Senator is still a CPAC favorite and a force in the party, but one of the pillars of his appeal may be eroding.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush can handle the base. In a lively question-and-answer session, Bush found his footing after an uneven start and managed to escape unscathed. “That was raucous and wild,” he told supporters after, “and I loved it.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did what he had to do: convince donors and voters alike that he’s still alive and kicking in the GOP nominating fight. No one was expecting a barn-burner from the moderate governor at CPAC, but he showed some familiar fight in a tough interview with radio host Laura Ingraham, peppering his answers with shots at the media and his 2016 opponents.

Republicans haven’t figured out how to prosecute former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s economic priorities. Speaker after speaker tied her to Obama’s foreign policy record, but mentions of her domestic agenda—and Obama’s—were rare and disjointed.

Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina had another strong performance, showcasing her willingness to forcefully criticize Clinton. Fiorina has no natural constituency or discernible path to the nomination, but her ability to play Hillary’s foil positions her for success on the debate stage and could lift her to a spot on the veep shortlist or a cabinet position if Republicans win the White House.

Moderators matter. The GOP is determined to mitigate the mainstream media’s impact on the nominating process, but CPAC showed that tapping ideologues to quiz the candidates carries its own problems. Fox News personality Sean Hannity served up softballs and cracked wise about former President Bill Clinton’s womanizing, while radio host Laura Ingraham laid bare her own biases by lambasting Bush and pushing Christie to do the same.

Sarah Palin can use her for talents for good. The former Alaska governor has long drawn eye-rolls and sighs from Republicans for her fake flirtations with the presidency and outlandish or sometimes incoherent statements. But at CPAC, Palin delivered a substantive, impassioned speech on veterans issues that called on both parties to address the needs of those returning from war.

The First Amendment only goes so far. Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson received a First Amendment Award for speaking about his faith. But the bearded reality TV personality blew through his allotted time limit, uncorking such a long, rambling speech that the CPAC organizers had to cue up music to drive him offstage.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz will run a populist, anti-Washington campaign that juxtaposes his principled stands in the Senate with the waffling of his rivals. That should make him a force in Iowa, but he still hasn’t shown how a zealous base will give him the math needed to win the nomination in this field.

Rick Santorum is the Republican Rodney Dangerfield. The former Pennsylvania senator carried 11 states in the 2012 nominating contest, finishing second to Mitt Romney. It was an impressive feat—yet he still gets no respect from the base, who filed out of the CPAC ballroom en masse during Santorum’s speech on Friday.

TIME 2016 Election

Conservative Activists View Jeb Bush With Skepticism

A raucous crowd at CPAC showed deep divides on Friday over a Jeb Bush candidacy

When Jeb Bush walked in at a grassroots gathering Friday, the Tea Party walked out.

As the former Florida governor spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, several dozen younger attendees left the room, led by a perennial Tea Party protester in revolutionary-era garb and a billowing Gadsden flag. Outside the hall, a chant of “No more Bushes” could be heard, while inside Bush folded his hands and stood uncomfortably.

The rowdy scene revealed deeper divides between hardline conservatives and supporters of more Establishment favorites such as Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But as the frontrunner among donors, it was Bush who drew the ire of many activists in the audience.

Read more: Jeb Bush Pitches Skeptical Conservatives at CPAC

To be fair, CPAC is not representative of the entire Republican Party. Attendees of the annual event are as likely to sport a denim vest, T-shirt or scruffy facial hair as they are to wear suits and loafers. One man wearing a Judas Priest sweatshirt over a maroon tie told a reporter that for him, CPAC is “just an excuse to go on a five-day bender.” The Republican National Convention, it ain’t.

Bush’s recent success with big donors was more a liability among the crowd here than an asset. “When you see the candidates supported by the status quo figures, you have to wonder,” said Bob Bodi, a Republican activist in Ohio, who wore a burgundy tie dotted with GOP elephants. “Conservatives aren’t willing to watch an election be bought.”

CPAC attendees also complained that Bush is milquetoast. “I’m not sure he has the fire in the belly to get the country back on track,” said Bill Rogers, a septuagenarian working through a glass of wine one evening after most had headed home. “He’s too soft on immigration.” Still others doubted his commitment to conservative values. “He doesn’t focus enough on first principles,” said Razi Lane, a first-year student at Hillsdale College in Michigan. He conjured James Madison and John Locke to criticize Bush. “Who represents natural law better? Ted Cruz.”

It wasn’t just local activists who expressed skepticism about a Bush candidacy. The talk-show host Laura Ingraham lambasted Bush on his money connections in a speech Friday morning. “The idea that we should conduct any kind of coronation,” Ingraham said, “because 50 rich families decide who will best decide their interests? No way, Jose.” Donald Trump, the real estate mogul and indefatigable presidential possible roused the crowd when he said Bush “is in favor of Common Core, he’s weak on immigration.”

But apart from the Sen. Ted Cruz late-night dorm room debaters and National Rifle Association activists at CPAC, Bush also had his supporters in the crowd. As in past years, presidential hopefuls’ allies bused in groups of supporters to vote for them in the straw poll and represent them in the crowd. Mitt Romney did it, Rand Paul’s allies do it, and so did Bush’s. Bush’s supporters like his tolerant stance on immigration, his willingness to compromise, qualities they say make him electable. “You have to give a little and you have to compromise and that’s something our country is lacking,” said Mallori Ware, a 19-year-old first-year at Liberty University and CPAC supporter of Bush. “We’re not going to elect someone to office who’s too conservative.”

The CPAC conservatives disagree, and a fight is brewing in the buzzing convention halls, one that will define the GOP for the next year. The night before Bush gave his tumultuous talk, Maggie Wright, a 69-year-old committed Cruz activist was adamant: she wouldn’t walk out in protest the next day. Out of politeness? No, not at raucous CPAC. Wright would stay to hear Bush’s speech, and “use it as ammo when Ted runs.”

TIME 2016 Election

Rand Paul Just Lost the Bulgaria Primary

Rand Paul
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, listens to a question during an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, Feb. 27, 2015.

U.S. ally hits back after the presidential hopeful's dismissive remark

Bulgaria has a bone to pick with Rand Paul.

The country’s Embassy in Washington hit back Friday at comments the Republican presidential hopeful made earlier this week, in which he seemed to dismiss the country’s importance while mounting an attack against Hillary Clinton.

“It goes without saying that Senator Rand Paul’s remark is inappropriate,” the Bulgarian embassy in Washington told TIME in a statement. “His dismissive attitude towards a US and NATO ally and a friendly country and his foreign policy record is to be judged by the American people.”

Paul on Wednesday reiterated his criticism of the former Secretary of State for not paying more attention to the situation on the ground in Libya ahead of the September, 2012 attack on a Benghazi compound that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Clinton has said she didn’t read a diplomatic cable requesting increased security at the compound.

MORE: Republicans Rediscovering Their Old Hawkish Message on Foreign Policy

“I could expect her not to read the cables from Bulgaria,” Paul told Yahoo on Wednesday. “But absolutely it’s inconceivable she didn’t read the cables coming from Benghazi.”

Bulgaria had kinder words for Clinton.

“Not that long time ago Secretary Clinton was on an official visit to Bulgaria,” the embassy added, referring to a 2012 visit by the now-presumptive Democratic presidential front-runner. “She stays engaged with us and is very well aware of the geopolitical realities of the region.”

Paul’s campaign declined to comment Friday on the Bulgarian embassy’s statement. He has long seized on Clinton’s tenure at the State Department and the Benghazi attack in particular as fodder for criticism and to tout his anti-interventionist, libertarian foreign policy ahead of a likely presidential run. Last year, for example, he came out swinging at a talk in Kentucky by pointing to the State Department’s spending bill on embassy décor.

“They spent $700,000 on landscaping at the Brussels embassy,” he said in August. “They spent $5 million on crystal glassware for the embassies around the world.”

The Bulgarian embassy said Paul could benefit from its foreign policy counsel.

“Among EU and NATO Member States Bulgaria is one of those standing closest to the major regional and global security challenges of today,” the statement said. “In this context the information coming from the American Embassy in Sofia might be more than useful to anyone striving to responsibly shape US foreign policy.”

TIME

CPAC: Republicans Rediscover Their Old Hawkish Message On Foreign Policy

Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

The threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria looms large

Rand Paul took the stage like a conquering hero Friday, his shirtsleeves rolled, his regular laconic manner turned fiery. The audience stacked with young libertarians gave him a standing ovation. But Paul, who became the reigning prince of the Conservative Political Action Conference partly by preaching his signature brand of non-interventionist foreign policy, had a new twist in his stump speech.

Paul tamped down his famous skepticism of military adventures, and replaced it with the more conventionally muscular rhetoric of Cold War conservatism. “Without question, we must now defend ourselves and American interests,” he said, in comments about the fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). When it came to the question of federal spending, he added, “for me, the priority is always national defense.”

Paul was hardly the only presumptive presidential candidate to focus on the perils brewing abroad. The annual confab of conservative activists, held this week outside Washington, has showcased the Republican Party’s new embrace of its old hawkish foreign policy. It’s a dramatic shift from recent years, when CPAC has been a forum for the party to air its grievances about the sprawling U.S. surveillance state. But for the past two days, speaker after speaker has sought to demonstrate their steeliness, earning reliable cheers by taunting ISIS and slamming President Obama for seeking a deal with Iran while snubbing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Likely 2016 candidates, from Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina, all roused the crowd by promising a tougher brand of foreign policy than the one practiced by Obama and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Former Senator Rick Santorum, the runner-up for the Republican nomination in 2012, called for 10,000 U.S. ground troops in the middle to battle ISIS and urged “bombing them back to the seventh century.”

This view is increasingly popular within the party. A mid-February poll conducted by CBS News found that 72% of Republicans favor sending U.S. ground troops into Iraq or Syria to fight ISIS militants, an increase of seven percentage points since only October. That leap comes as the issue replaces the brightening economy at the top of newscasts.

According to aides to several candidates, the increased focus on foreign policy in stump speeches reflects increasing public concern as well as the belief among several campaigns that Republicans will have an edge with voters on security issues in a race against Clinton.

“Folks are getting beheaded over there,” says an adviser to one likely candidate. “People are seeing the failure of this president’s foreign policy on TV every day.”

The shifting political winds have heartened the hawkish groups who watched the GOP’s isolationist turn—and Paul’s rise—with alarm. “Rand and his acolytes hoped that if we left the world alone, the world would leave us alone. But experience is a cruel teacher, and beheadings and Iranian nukes focus the mind,” says Noah Pollak, the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel. “To their credit, many of the conservatives who flirted with the Rand and Obama foreign policy are changing their minds after seeing what happens when America withdraws from the world.”

The view was a popular one at an event that is a revealing—if imperfect—glimpse of the GOP’s current zeitgeist. “National security issues must be at the center of the 2016 presidential debate,” former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton declared onstage, and it seemed few of his potential rivals for the nomination disagreed.

Fiorina blistered Obama and Clinton for dithering: “While you seek moral equivalence,” she said, “the world waits for moral clarity and American leadership.” Walker, who has risen in the early primary polls by positioning himself as a conservative fighter, suggested he would take an aggressive stance on foreign policy. “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” Walker said. (A spokeswoman for Walker’s political-action committee later clarified that the governor was “in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS.”)

But it was Paul, who was most notable for having freshened his message. Back in 2011, he came to CPAC to call for cuts in military spending. “If you refuse to acknowledge that there’s any waste can be culled from the military budget, you are a big-government conservative and can you not lay claim to balancing the budget,” he said. This year he claimed “a foreign policy that encourages stability, not chaos.” His many fans here say they still believe his more restrained approach will bear political fruit. Daniel Jenkins, a 28-year old Iraq veteran and Paul supporter at Charlotte School of Law, says the senator’s foreign policy will have broad appeal in the general election. “It may not be the strongest point here among these conservatives,” Jenkins says, “but I think with Independents and in the big picture, it’ll catch on.”

CPAC is still Paul’s crowd, rippling with the young libertarians who form a cornerstone of his base. And the two-time defending champ of CPAC’s symbolic straw poll is likely to make it a three-peat when the event wraps up Saturday evening. But the annual confab has also signaled the challenges that lie ahead for the Kentucky Republican.

With reporting by Sam Frizell

Read next: Jeb Bush Pitches Skeptical Conservatives at CPAC

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TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Pitches Skeptical Conservatives at CPAC

Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Jeb Bush speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

In the first pitch of his unofficial campaign to the GOP grassroots activists, Jeb Bush cast himself as a full-spectrum conservative who was in sync with the party’s base on economic, social and foreign-policy issues.

Describing himself as a “practicing, reform-minded conservative,” Bush made a game effort to ingratiate himself with Republicans who are leery of a third Bush presidency. Still, he encountered a raw dose of the disappointment that still lingers around the Bush brand.

Speaking on a low stage in a jam-packed ballroom split between hostile opponents and backers bused in from D.C., Bush drew a raucous mix of cheers, boos and intermittent heckling. “I’m marking them down as neutral,” Bush joked of the booers, “and I want to be your second choice.” A small number of opponents staged a walkout during the speech. Outside, costumed activists started a chant of “No More Bushes!”

The reception appeared to rattle Bush during the first minutes of his question-and-answer session with Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, but the former Florida governor recovered quickly to enumerate the merits of his record.

Bush defended his support of Common Core education standards. “The federal government has no role in the creation of the standards,” Bush said. He noted that as governor, he championed school vouchers and ended affirmative action in the Sunshine State’s public universities.

Tackling the other main policy obstacles looming in the GOP primary contest, Bush blistered President Obama’s executive orders on immigration as an overreach that he would reverse as president. “The courts are going to overrule that,” he said. Asked how he would’ve handled the tide of unaccompanied minors who arrived at the southern border last summer, Bush said they should have been sent home. Defending his call for comprehensive immigration reform, he said there should be a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. “The simple fact,” he said, “is there is no plan to deport 11 million people.”

Citing his record amassed as the former two-term governor of Florida, Bush sought to rebut the “moderate” tag that critics have applied. “It’s a record that may be hard for people to imagine,” he said, “because it’s a record of getting things done.”

Bush painted himself as a fiscal conservative who slashed taxes, grew the economy at a faster rate than the rest of the U.S., left his successor with a $9.5 billion rainy day fund and issued so many line-item vetoes that his opponents dubbed him “Veto Corleone.”

Like other potential presidential candidates at CPAC, Bush laid out a muscular foreign policy position that reasserted America’s place in the world. “This total misunderstanding of what this Islamic threat is is very dangerous,” he said, adding that “the American people are going to reject what President Obama is trying to do with Iran.”

Bush suggested he was in step with movement conservatives on social issues as well. Responding to a Hannity question, Bush said he had no regrets about his reaction to the Terri Schiavo controversy, and noted he was a pro-life governor who believes in “traditional marriage.”

Democrats hammered Bush for the remarks, noting he has cast himself as a rare Republican candidate capable of bridging the party’s deficit with Latino voters. “Jeb Bush isn’t a new type of Republican, and he certainly isn’t looking out for everyday people in America,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Ian Sams. “Instead, he’s the same Jeb Bush who, as governor, supported slashing funding for urban schools and higher education, while giving massive tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations. Bush may say he can bring Latino voters into the GOP fold, but with priorities like these, that’s really hard to imagine.”

After Bush’s remarks, hundreds of supporters waited in line for a closed-press reception with the former governor. Aides handed out red “Jeb ’16” T-shirts and baseball caps. To enter the event, supporters were required to register their contact info with Bush’s Right to Rise political-action committee.

Bush took the microphone at the event to the theme song from “Rocky.” Of the question-and-answer session, he said “that was raucous and wild and I loved it.” He then argued for expanding the Republican tent: “There are a lot of conservatives out there in America who just don’t know it yet.”

TIME Education

Ghost of Common Core Haunts Conservative Gathering

CPAC Conservatives Republicans Chris Christie
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME New Jersey governor Chris Christie on stage at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 26, 2015.

For the politicians speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington this week, it’s usually pretty easy to give the grassroots audience the red meat it craves. Abortion? Against it! Taxes? Lower them! Obama? Don’t like him!

But one hot-button issue was trickier than usual for some of the politicians, especially the governors who are likely to run for president in 2016: Common Core.

With one notable exception, the speakers at CPAC were against the state education standards, saying they hurt local control of education and took the power from parents and teachers.

On Thursday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal demanded the immediate repeal of Common Core. That same day, Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon-cum-presidential hopeful, slammed it for eliminating parental choice, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz questioned the conservative credentials of anyone who doesn’t actively attempt to dismantle the program. “If a candidate says they oppose Common Core, fantastic,” said Cruz. “[But] when have they stood up and fought against it?”

Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took turns condemning Common Core for being poorly implemented and impinging on state control.

That was all well and good–anti-Common Core lines tend to earn hoots and applause from the grassroots—but whenever the questioning on Common Core probed ever so slightly deeper, everyone seemed to cringe.

That’s because, just three years ago, the majority of Republican politicians—including Govs. Walker, Jindal, Christie and Jeb Bush—not only supported the implementation of Common Core, they outright championed it. In early 2011, 40 states, including nearly all Republican-led ones, voluntarily signed on to the shared standards. In the next two years, five more followed suit.

In 2011, Walker included Common Core in his first state budget, explicitly instructing the state education chief to come up with a Common Core-aligned state test for Wisconsin kids.

In 2012, Jindal told a crowd of business leaders that Common Core “will raise expectations for every child.”

In 2013, Christie told a crowd of educators that he was sticking with Common Core regardless of the “knee-jerk reaction that is happening in Washington” among Republicans who will simply disagree with anything President Obama supports. “We are doing Common Core in New Jersey and we’re going to continue,” he said boldly.

But as the politics around the issue have shifted, driven largely by a grassroots base of Tea Party conservatives, all of them have tip-toed backwards, either distancing themselves or outright condemning the standards.

All of them, that is, except Jeb Bush.

The former Florida governor has, in the past two years, earned the ire of the conservative base by not only refusing to condemn Common Core, but by continuing to support it. That’s awkward.

Some at CPAC responded to this rift by ignoring it entirely. In a panel about Common Core on Thursday—entitled “Common Core: Rotten To The Core?”—a group of vehemently anti-Common Core educators simply avoided saying Bush’s name. “Entire Common Core panel at CPAC happened without mentioning the words ‘Jeb’ and ‘Bush,'” tweeted Igor Bobic, a politics editor at the Huffington Post.

But others, including Laura Ingraham, who has made no secret of her dislike for the former Florida governor, came at Bush swinging. This morning, the conservative radio host told the crowd that there really wasn’t any difference between Bush and potential Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, citing the two politicians support for Common Core as among their similarities. “So I’m designing the bumper sticker,” she said. “It could be, Clush 2016: What difference does it make?”

TIME 2016 Election

What the Walk-Up Music for 2016 Candidates Tells Us

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, MD on Feb. 26, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 26, 2015.

Like Major League Baseball players getting ready for their turn at bat, presidential candidates have their own walk-up music.

Most of the likely 2016 Republican contenders spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week near Washington, D.C., and while they didn’t choose the songs, the picks gave a hint of what people are thinking about their campaigns.

Here’s a look at the songs introducing the 2016ers.

Hillary Clinton

The Song: “I’m Every Woman,” by Chaka Khan

What it Means: Clinton’s campaign is reportedly going to play up the historic nature of being the first female president in 2016, much more than it did in 2008. So it makes sense that she took the stage at a recent event in San Francisco to Khan’s funk-inflected 1978 hit, which has become part of the feminist pop canon.

Bottom Line: She wants every woman’s vote.

Chris Christie

The Song: “Enter Sandman,” by Metallica

What it Means: After hitting a rough patch, Christie is attempting a comeback by emphasizing his outspoken nature and taking jabs at his opponents. He came on stage at CPAC to heavy metal band Metallica’s intense 1991 hit about children’s nightmares.

The Bottom Line: He wants to be Hillary’s worst nightmare.

Scott Walker

The Song: “Coming Home,” by Avenged Sevenfold

What it Means: After Walker took heat from the Dropkick Murphys for using their song at an earlier event, it was probably a good idea for Walker to come on stage to a more generic riff. It doesn’t hurt that Avenged Sevenfold, while not a Christian band, takes its name from Genesis 4:24.

The Bottom Line: It’s not going to be the Dropkick Murphys again.

Ted Cruz

The Song: “Wave on Wave,” by Pat Green

What it Means: At CPAC this year, Republicans mostly took the stage to either country or heavy metal. Cruz came on to the former, a song from a popular Texas musician that was also used by George W. Bush’s re-election campaign.

The Bottom Line: He’s the candidate from Texas.

Marco Rubio

The Song: “Cruise,” by Florida Georgia Line

What it Means: Like Cruz, Rubio came on stage to a local country act. One of the members grew up in Florida (the other in Georgia, hence the name) and the duo, who met at a campus worship group in college, are heavily influenced by Christian music.

The Bottom Line: He wants take his Florida act north.

Rick Perry

The Song: “Back in Black,” by AC/DC

What it Means: Perry’s 2012 campaign suffered because he didn’t get enough sleep. It’s no surprise that he’d take the stage at CPAC to heavy metal’s ultimate comeback anthem, written in honor of former singer Bon Scott, which even has the lyrics “back in black, I hit the sack.”

The Bottom Line: He’s tanned, rested and ready.

Bobby Jindal

The Song: “Country Must Be Country Wide,” by Brantley Gilbert

What it Means: Jindal is pitching himself as the ultimate political strategist for Republicans. At CPAC, he came on stage to a song about how there are country music fans all over the United States, or as the songwriter put it, “there are rednecks everywhere.”

The Bottom Line: He’s ready to serve country, er, his country.

Carly Fiorina

The Song: “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams

What it Means: The former Hewlett-Packard CEO is running at the back of the pack, but she hopes her ability to bring the heat to Clinton will help her break out. At CPAC, she came on stage to a song that went from being buried on the “Despicable Me 2″ soundtrack to being the hit of the summer.

The Bottom Line: She’s planning on being a happy warrior.

Ben Carson

The Song: “Life is a Highway,” cover version by Rascal Flatts

What it Means: Carson made a name for himself among conservatives with fiercely partisan rhetoric, hitting President Obama hard on issues like religion and healthcare. But his speech at CPAC was more subdued, starting with the song he came on stage to, a mainstream country cover that was on the soundtrack to Pixar’s Cars.

The Bottom Line: He’s moving into the center lane.

TIME 2016 Election

RNC Chair Turns ‘3 A.M.’ Attack on Clinton

Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, participates on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National at National Harbor, Md.
Ron Sachs—CNP/AdMedia/Corbis Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, participates on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National at National Harbor, Md., March 8, 2014.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus turned one of Hillary Clinton’s signature attack lines against her Friday, previewing a GOP theme in advance of the 2016 election.

Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference, Priebus criticized Clinton for allowing her foundation to accept money from foreign governments while she was service as Secretary of State.

“Taking money from countries like Algeria and Oman while she was Secretary of State,” Priebus said. “Which makes you wonder: How will those donations affect her answer to that 3 a.m. phone call?”

“I can hear it now: ‘Don’t worry, sultan, just send 10 million to the Foundation, and it’ll all work out,'” he added.

The 3 a.m. attack is a reference to one of Clinton’s most biting hits on then-Senator Barack Obama, questioning the first-termer’s ability to handle complicated foreign policy questions.

Tying Clinton to the Obama administration’s foreign policy record is a central component of the GOP’s strategy to take her on. Priebus’ attack is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

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