Wielding "Cruz Crew" buttons for Sen. Ted Cruz and proudly showing off a photograph with their favorite member of Congress and immigration hardliner, Rep. Louie Gohmert, husband and wife Susan and Mike Najvar balk at the suggestion that McConnell is even the majority leader at this point.
"He's letting Reid run everything right this minute. He's in the fetal position," Susan Najvar said. "Reid needs to go have some more eye surgery because he is running everything."
As the deadline looms to fund the Homeland Security Department, the political math has forced McConnell to succumb to Democrats' demands. But here at CPAC, McConnell is not catching a break. Even after four failed attempts to pass a DHS funding bill that blocked Obama's executive action on immigration, McConnell still is villainized by conservative activists for detangling the must-pass spending legislation from the controversial immigration rider.
"He's no leader," says CPAC attendee Wayne Mazza. "I'd rather put up with six years of a Democrat and have a chance of getting a true conservative than have an establishment candidate that doesn't care about the American people."
Attendees at CPAC accentuate McConnell and Boehner's bind. Like those in their conference who have urged them not to back down, not to bring a clean bill to the floor, many conservatives here in the grand ballroom, sporting "Run Ben Run" t-shirts that encourage retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson to embark on a presidential campaign, and waving popsicle sticks with Cruz's face glued on, don't believe shutting down DHS matters. What they want is for someone to stand up against Obama.
"Let's take the pain and preserve the Constitution," says Chris Phillips. "If you get blamed for upholding the Constitution, that is a worthy cause."
Public polling reveals a government shutdown could undermine Republicans' ability to show they have the propensity to govern. A CNN poll showed Republicans would be blamed when images of unpaid government workers lead the evening news.
But at CPAC, attendees are not buying it.
Ken Wood, a federal employee who lived through the Clinton-era government shut down, says narratives of unpaid TSA agents and terrorist warnings are overwrought and strategically dramatic in an effort to push conservatives into a corner to cave.
"I went to Disney World," Wood said of his memories of the shutdown in 1994. "We got paid. We always get paid eventually."
Many at CPAC are dubious that the massive DHS does much to begin with.
"The whole thing is designed to confuse everybody," CPAC attendee Tim Brown says. "They are not doing anything to protect us as far as I am concerned. It is just another government agency that is sucking the life out of us."
By Friday, Boehner will be forced to choose what side he is on—whether he's going to bring a clean DHS bill to the floor and outrage his right flank and their constituents, or whether he will defy his new Capitol Hill ally and reject McConnell's DHS bill. Boehner also is considering a third option: a continuing resolution that would fund DHS for a matter of days or weeks while his party grapples with its options.