Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R) is one of the many coy presidential contenders speaking at CPAC this year. He hasn’t said officially if he’s running for president, but he showed up here with staff who are on the ground for him in Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as a slew of Gary Johnson for President signs. CPAC is generally very welcoming of Republican presidential contenders, giving them space on the dais to speak and time to make their case to the thousands gathered here.
Unless they’re pot-legalization supporting libertarians like Johnson. Those, they throw off the stage.
Johnson’s supporters are of the Team Ron Paul mold: young, libertarian and desperate for a GOP that stops caring about gay marriage and starts caring about eliminating the Fed. There are plenty of them here at CPAC, and the conservatives in attendance seem willing to accommodate them. Up to a point.
Paul will get a big slot on stage Friday, and his supporters may win him the all-important (but not really) straw poll Saturday. But Johnson’s name wasn’t even on the schedule before he spoke this morning, and a Johnson staffer told me that CPAC “bumped us then un-bumped us a few times.”
In the end, they gave Johnson 15 minutes Friday morning, which he spent touting his many vetoes while governor (750, he said) and calling on the Republican Party to make a deal with Democrats to repeal the Medicare prescription drug plan that President Bush signed along with the health care reform bill that President Obama signed.
Johnson had just moved on to immigration when, all of a sudden, country music began to swell. The day’s emcee, Pajama Media’s Roger Simon, popped out from behind the curtain and stood to Johnson’s right, waiting. Clearly, Johnson’s CPAC moment was over.
The Johson staffer told TPM: “Yeah, they played him off.”
Watch the awkwardness: