02/12/2011 11:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Conservative Confab Produces An Unlikely Contender

I was invited to CPAC, the largest gathering of conservatives in America, to screen my film Doonby which co-stars a CPAC favorite, actor Robert Davi, and talk a bit about the subject of my next film, a hero to all of the attendees, Ronald Reagan. During my speech I spoke about Reagan's communication skills and how his party was going to have to find someone of equal or greater skills if they hoped to beat a man with the personal magnetism of Barack Obama and on the final day of the confab they may have done just exactly that. More on that later.

After the speech I retired to the green room to watch a surprise guest, Donald Trump address the crowd. As the Washington Post noted, Trump surprised everybody by announcing that he was both pro-life and pro-gun and the audience responded with loud applause at the surprise announcement.

It was my first time to attend CPAC, and several things surprised me about the weekend: first, it was massive, with around 11,000 people attending. It was also dominated by Ron Paul supporters and Paul finished first in the straw poll of favorite contenders to take on President Obama. In the face of such strong support, Trump showed moxie by shouting down a vocal supporter by telling him that Paul had no chance of winning next year.

I've never quite understood why Paul attracts so many young people but I repeatedly ran into many of his fans in elevators and around the venue. They are devoted to the man but especially devoted to his ideals and they seem to be attracted to his unwillingness to compromise. If the GOP is smart, they'll find a way to bring his followers fully into their big tent because his supporters have the enthusiasm and energy that nobody else's seem to have.

As I strolled the hallway with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a former Reagan speechwriter who has been a great resource for Reagan stories for the film, I pointed to a long line of young Republican women lined up to hear Mrs. Duggar, that mother of 19 children speak and asked him if young GOP women had always been this attractive: yes he nodded. It had always been this way.

I also enjoyed meeting a number of journalists at the convention including Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, the legendary Michael Barone and my new favorite, Politico's Mike Allen whom I enjoy watching on Morning Joe.

There were numerous speakers throughout the conference but I found a few especially compelling: John Thune, the first-term Senator from South Dakota gave an impressive speech, noting his forebears who came from Norway. In the green room, a GOP notable noted that Thune was angling for Veep, but I'm not sure about that.

The convention had been rocked by the schism of having several conservative groups pull out as a result of one group, GOProud being invited and it was left to Ann Coulter to address the schism. Declaring that she was a born again Christian she argued passionately that homosexuality shouldn't be considered a greater sin than heterosexual sex outside of marriage while at the same time urging gays to follow Abraham-from-the-Bible's lead by giving up something they love for God-their sexual expression-just as the Old Testament hero had given up someone he loved-his son, out of obedience to God.

GOProud had spent the night before partying across town at a club, hosted by multi-media guru Andrew Breitbart and headlined by Sophie B. Hawkins and attended by hundreds including former GOP chairman Michael Steele

Coulter had the most insightful political line of the conference when she responded to a '12 question by making this prediction: Chris Christie could beat Obama, but if he didn't run, Romney would get the nomination and lose to Obama.

The most impressive speech of the entire weekend was the closer, a barnburner by a freshman congressman named Allen West. Outside the green room, shortly before he stepped to the podium, a GOP official told West that he would be unable to watch him speak because he had to catch a plane to which West deadpanned: "don't worry you won't miss much." Boy was he wrong. At first blush the selection of West to keynote the conference smacked of the kind of tokenism that some thought was in play when the GOP selected Michael Steele to chair the party. Nobody was saying the same thing after West dominated the audience from beginning to end with withering critiques of liberalism, taunts directed at the "liberal press," and a confident assertion of a verse from the book of Isaiah that no weapon formed against those who loved God would prosper.

Never mind that he's a freshman congressman in office for less sixty days and that his skin color just happens to be the same as our sitting president, as implausible as it may sound to those not in the room, with his speech, this unknown has leapfrogged over a dozen better known names and emerges from CPAC as a very serious contender for the GOP nomination next year.