WASHINGTON (CNN) - Yesterday, the first day of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, was about the movement's present and future. Today, it's all about the past, as President Bush makes his first – and final – visit to the conference as commander-in-chief.
President Bush was absent from last year's CPAC gathering in more ways than one. Not only did the president himself not make an appearance – his would-be successors barely mentioned his name. (For the record: a year ago, the five major GOP presidential candidates mentioned the current White House occupant roughly half a dozen times between them, mostly in passing. Ronald Reagan's name came up more than four times as often.)
The president's speech early this morning is a valedictory – the conservative version of his final State of the Union address. It's his account for the history books, with a focus on how he has been the movement's standard-bearer on tax cuts, stem cells and national security – and a familiar, defiant apologia of his administration's Iraq war policy: "We refused to yield when the going got tough. And when the history of our actions is written, it will show that we were right."
As for the race to succeed him: Mitt Romney is out – but the candidate who may gain the most from his exit isn't Mike Huckabee (the beneficiary of a sudden endorsement from a James Dobson) or even John McCain (whose path to the Republican nomination now seems secure). That distinction actually goes to Barack Obama, who no longer has to compete with McCain for independents in suddenly-competitive primary states like Virginia, Texas and Ohio, where independent voters are eligible to vote in upcoming Democratic contests.
- CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand