Ted Cruz is running late. In a quickly crowding hallway in the middle of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., a yellow-shirted CPAC volunteer is trying to keep control of a metastasizing line of conference attendees waiting for a Cruz meet ‘n’ greet.
“His speech went long,” she tells me.
With the possible exception of Sarah Palin, Cruz has to be the most in-demand CPAC star. The Texas senator has been a grassroots darling from Jump Street. So his appearance at the mother of all conservative events means hallways will be clogged, iPhones will be hoisted, reporters will be mashed into each other, and the Texas senator will have a chance to prove his hand-shaking mettle. He seems game.
The senator emerges from the speakers’ area in conversation with Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Cameras swarm about the pair, and the senator gets through to the green room for One America News, an oasis of water bottles and elbow room where he sits down for an interview about the IRS and the 2010 election.
Cruz’s tardiness makes sense. He can’t not get into conversations. On the way out of the green room, he bumps into Diana Cardenas, whose husband Al chairs the American Conservative Union, which sponsors CPAC. The two talk for a minute before the senator is swept out and into an on-camera interview with a Fox reporter. A host of other reporters circle the interview, cameras and recorders hoisted, and only scraps of conversation are audible — “We’ve got a hashtag, Make D.C. Listen,” “The president should have stood up just like Ronald Reagan did” – and after the interview wraps, the senator and his aides duck to a back hallway so they can get to the next stop on his CPAC tour without causing a stampede. There’s a problem, though.
“They threw away my coffee?” Cruz asks, laughing and a touch incredulous. One of the aides has coffee, but it’s cold. Can’t be helped.
From there, it’s on to the meet ‘n’ greet — the line for this event has been growing out down the hall for the last twenty minutes or so — where the senator smiles and poses for a picture with dozens of supporters.
“Are you a groupie?” one of the greeters asks me after getting his photo with Cruz. I explain that I’m not, and ask if he is. He nods. It’s a joke, but not really.
Cruz seems to genuinely enjoy the process. Harry Reid has called for votes at 11:00 a.m. today, which has made Cruz’s schedule for the morning a total mess. At about five after 10:00, his staff starts trying to shuffle him out for a 10:15 press avail. But there’s still a lengthy line of people waiting to get pictures with him, and he isn’t ready to leave.
“There’s nothing more important than the folks who have been waiting in line,” he tells aides.
“Catherine, it drives you crazy,” he continues, addressing his press secretary, “but these folks are more important than our friends in the press.”
So he sticks it out till the last picture is taken. Then it’s on to pushing through the crowd by Radio Row to get to the belated press avail. That, predictably, takes forever. One middle-aged man gets a selfie with him. Another locks eyes with him and says, “You are my hero.” Cruz takes his time.