NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND, March 1, 2015 — The third and final day of CPAC was all about the waiting game. Many of the major speakers had already left. By 2:00 p.m., the vendors had packed up their merchandise and closed their booths. Radio row was quiet.
The only thing left for the remaining attendees was to hurry up and wait.
For the Young Jewish Conservatives, waiting was easy. The Sabbath meant a full day of programming that combined conservative politics with religiosity. Rabbi Daniel Lapin offered more heartfelt words.
At lunch, “The Great One” showed up.
Radio host Mark Levin is a proud Jew and proud political conservative. While politicians offer sugar-coated remarks, Levin unleashes fury on those who stray from their principles. Levin made it clear that his comments were already heard on the radio for all to hear.
He also spoke on the main stage at CPAC declaring President Obama an “anti-Semite,” Ron Paul a “Jew-hater,” and the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) “worthless.” He is also no fan of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
For the non-Jews unconstrained by the Jewish sabbath, the waiting was for the results of the straw poll. The CPAC straw poll is useless for many attendees. Everybody knows that the then-Ron now-Rand Paul team buses in hundreds of young college kids, pays for them to attend CPAC, and treats them as the heart and soul of the conservative movement rather than a statistical anomaly.
Rand Paul was expected to win the straw poll, and he did. What was surprising was how close his win was.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker finished a strong second despite not buying votes. Texas Senators Ted Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson and Jeb Bush rounded out the top five finishers and in that order with Bush garnering only 8% of the vote. But again, its a meaningless straw poll.
When Paul’s name was announced, his supporters erupted in applause while everybody else yawned. His college backers insist that their movement is about more than legalized marijuana, but the mere mention of that issue continues to be what elicits their loudest sustained applause.
Paul supporters do not even try to contain their obsessive enthusiasm with getting stoned.
The real excitement came when pollster Kelly Anne Conway broke down the responses of the voters. Only 18% of voters said that voting in favor of gay marriage would disqualify a presidential candidate. That figure is too low to blame on college Paul supporters.
For CPAC, it is astonishing that 82% of voters would be able to tolerate a vote in favor of gay marriage.
Abortion provided a fascinating outcome. Not only were conservatives divided between pro-life and pro-choice, they were divided further within those categories. Some pro-lifers wanted a total ban while others made exception only for the life of the mother. Others still wanted exemptions for rape and incest.
On the pro-choice side, there was disagreement on whether that should be for the first trimester only, the first two trimesters only, or always. Liberals clam to be open-minded but tend to march lock-step on the abortion issue.
Conservatives clearly have more diversity in their thinking.
37% of CPAC straw poll voters wanted legalized recreational marijuana while 27% wanted pot to remain illegal. That is hardly a ringing endorsement for the stoners.
Opinions on illegal immigration showed the split between the National Review and Wall Street Journal positions. There was no uniting philosophy between the Neocon foreign policy and the non-interventionists.
On issue after issue, the conservative movement showed itself to be a place for vigorous and vibrant debates about substantive policy matters.
As with any CPAC epilogue, the revelry did not end when the official festivities did. After-parties were everywhere. In Washington, D.C., there was the annual “Reaganpalooza.” For those who stayed in the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center, Gene Berardelli and the Brooklyn, New York Republican Party hosted their annual “Unsustainable Bar Tab Party.”
Until next year, CPAC 2016