Jeb Bush’s speech at this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference won’t be much of a speech after all. Instead, Bush will participate in a 20-minute question-and-answer session with Fox News host Sean Hannity.
According to sources familiar with the event, all of the prospective 2016 presidential candidates who take the stage at CPAC this year have the option of delivering a speech and then taking questions, which will be culled from Twitter, or forgoing the speech entirely and participating in a 20-minute question-and-answer session instead. It is unclear whether other candidates have opted for the full question-and-answer session, but Hannity would serve as the interviewer for those exchanges as well, and he will devise his own questions.
The role will give Hannity, a longtime voice for grassroots conservatives, a key role in moderating the early conversation between the young conservative activists who flock to CPAC every year and the candidates who come to woo them. They usually do so with practiced stump speeches, but this year, all will have to perform off-the-cuff. Bush, in recent appearances, has looked stiff in his speeches but excelled in more relaxed, post-speech question-and-answer sessions, so the format is likely to benefit him.
Ian Walters, the communications director for the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual CPAC gathering, says he can’t “think of anyone better” to moderate the discussions than Hannity. “Can you think of anyone better who has been a fair and consistent voice for conservative values?” he asks.
The end of the week will also see the aspiring presidential contenders flocking to West Palm Beach, where the Club for Growth is holding its annual donor conference. Many of the potential 2016 candidates are shuttling from one venue to the other in order to address both crowds, the party’s rank-and-file activists on the one hand and its top-dollar donors on the other.