Thousands of conservatives attended CPAC St. Louis on Saturday to listen to more than 40 conservative leaders and rising stars. There were a number of last-minute speaking cancellations for the conference. Members of the US House had to stay in DC to work on a fix to avoid a partial government shutdown.
Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri also cancelled, saying he was working on a deal even though the Senate wasn’t in session. That decision drew the ire of many conservatives.
“Out of the Show-Me State Senators, we don't have any of them, but we do have Senator Mike Lee," conservative talk personality Dana Loesch said. "I wish the Show-Me delegation to show Lee a little help while on the senate floor.”
Mike Lee of Utah was the only US Senator who attended. Lee spoke on the floor while his fellow Senator Ted Cruz performed a pseudo-filibuster against the Affordable Care Act. But during Lee’s speech, he spoke of unity.
“As conservatives, as citizens within this great movement, we may disagree from time to time," Lee told the crowd. "But we have more that unites us than divides us.”
It speaks to a recurring dichotomy within the Republican Party: a fixation upon inflexible principles, but the need for occasional compromise, and unity.
But anti-tax leader Grover Norquist focused on party purity instead.
"(Let's say) you drink 2/3rds of (a) Coke and you look down and see there’s a rat head in your coke bottle," Norquist said. "You wonder if you buy Coke in the future. Republican leaders who vote for tax increases are rat heads in a coke bottle. They damage the brand for everyone else.”
CPAC St. Louis had two headliners. One was 2012 presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, who was plugging his upcoming Christmas movie.
“They say, ‘Well, have you left politics, have you gotten out, are you not running for president again?’" Santorum said. "And I say ‘No, I’m engaging in the front of the battle for the soul of this country.”
Santorum told the crowd that even though the party lost the presidential election again, the GOP doesn’t have to change its stance, just change the way it conveys the message.
“We’re the ones who have the truth. Why are we playing defense?” Santorum asked.
Another 2012 presidential candidate and someone who is seen as a likely 2016 contender -- Texas Governor Rick Perry -- was the other headliner. Perry gave a more typical conference speech, in giving advice to the current President.
“Defend our country," Perry said. "Get out of the health care business, get out of the education business, stop hammering industry. Let the sleeping giant that is known as American industry create prosperity again.”
Missouri statewide officials like Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder and Auditor Tom Schweich filled the void left by the Congressional cancellations.
Schweich spoke out against government mismanagement he’s found while in office.
And Kinder, who could be a candidate for Missouri’s 8th Congressional district next year, touted his conservative bonafides on what he calls “Obamacare.”
“If they think any Supreme Court ruling or anything that happens this week in Congress is going to stop us from continuing to fight against Obamacare, they have another thing coming!" Kinder said. "We have just begun to fight! I have just begun to fight!”
Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter: @csmcdaniel