The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has wrapped up; as usual, I stayed far away but tracked it closely. Some thoughts:
--It's important to remember that the CPAC crowd is not representative of the broader Republican base, or the conservative movement. It is primarily A) Washington-centric organizations (PACs, 401(c)3s, publishers, etc.) vying for influence and market share in the movement-conservative marketplace; and B) young, college-educated (or currently in college), East Coast elites. Over half of all the CPAC straw-poll votes came from people age 25 or under; by contrast, roughly three-quarters of GOP Iowa caucus voters are age 45+. CPAC-goers are almost entirely disinterested in social issues, particularly gay marriage but also abortion and "War on Xmas"-y stuff. This has long been true, but has become much more pronounced in recent years -- essentially via self-selection. CPAC has become a meet-and-greet event for young libertarian conservatives, and particularly the Ron Paul crowd. In turn, that has enticed more libertarian-ish sponsors to take part, and affects the makeup of the panels and speakers. All of this diminishes the value of the event for everyone else, so fewer of them attend, and so on. The much-ballyhooed boycott over the inclusion of GOProud added to the divide this year, but is more an effect than a cause.
--Mitt Romney gave a pretty decent speech, although I thought it a bit odd; it was a fairly brief, shallow series of mean-spirited jokes about Obama... in other words, he gave a Sarah Palin speech. A pretty good one, but still, a Sarah Palin speech.
--There's a lot of talk that Romney's hopes of the nomination are dead, unless he can effectively renounce his own Massachusetts health care reform... but that doing so would only solidify the idea that he's a political shape-shifter nobody can believe about anything. I think there's some truth to this, but I think it underestimates Romney's, shall we say, pre-existing condition. Religious conservatives long ago wrote off Romney; some say because of his religion, while I would argue that it was primarily his total lack of credibility on abortion (and gay rights). Libertarian conservatives wrote him off way back as well, as did a lot of others for various reasons. My point is, I think conservatives are making a big stink about RomneyCare because they don't like Romney, not the other way 'round.
--Palin turned down an invitation to give the closing keynote speech, so the organizers scrambled and came up with freshman congressman from Florida Allen West. West, an African-American, is eerily reminiscent of Michael Steele in 2004. Steele, then the Maryland LG launching a bid for US Senate, gave the keynote at the '04 RNC, and the Republicans there loved it. Everyone I talked to there cited Steele's speech as a highlight of the convention -- Republicans are just desperate to have their own conservative black pols. West -- who, in my opinion is a much bigger phony than Steele, who I've been mocking for years -- is their new hero.
--Two years ago, just after Obama took office, CPAC speeches were thick with the horrific things the Democrats were going to do to America. Last year, just after Scott Brown's election, there was enormous optimistic focus on taking back the US House of Representatives. This year, coming just after the GOP took over the House, there was a bit of a rudderlessness to CPAC, it seemed to me. There was some focus on beating Obama in 2012, but that was partly due to the line-up of speakers launching their bids to do that. The crazy talk -- about immigrants, secret Democratic plans, birth certificates, sharia law, Holder's racist Justice Department, Van Jones, etc. -- seemed to be kept mostly off the main stage. The big topic was the perilous debt, requiring less spending, but with very, very little specifically -- a little odd, when you consider that CPAC came smack in the middle of budget talk in DC. I thought I'd hear more about rolling back the Great Society and such, with calls to shut down the EPA, Dept of Education, FDA, HUD, etc. etc. etc.... but I didn't get much sense of that. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention.
--Part of the change was because some of the speakers who usually be counted on to give the nuttiest speeches seem to be seriously running for president. Newt Gingrich, who was off-the-wall crazy last year (focusing on how America had turned into Soviet-era Czechoslovakia, as I recall), but much more constrained this time. Dittor for the great and powerful Michelle Bachmann. Plus, previously entertaining US Reps, like Steve King of Iowa and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, seemed tempered a bit by being back in the majority.
--At some point, can we all start openly treating Ron Paul as a dangerous crackpot? I found that I could be entertained by the young-libertarian hero-worshipping of the guy in '08, but I don't find the joke funny anymore. I mean, he's a regular monthly guest on the radio show of Alex Jones, an anti-government conspiracy nutcase who makes Glenn Beck look like a cautious skeptic. If Paul's going to be given a committee chair, and go around to events like CPAC drumming up support, he should be confronted with all the genuinely wacky stuff he never has to answer for.
--LOVED the Donald Trump swoop-in speech. I don't know if he's serious about running for president, or just boosting ratings for the new Celebrity Apprentice -- who cares? Great, great fun.