WASHINGTON, March 9, 2014 — The third and final day of CPAC brought everything full circle. Most of Radio Row leaves after Friday, and the vendors pack up early Saturday afternoon. Yet all is not quiet on the CPAC front. Two events conclude the event, one meaningful and one meaningless.
The meaningful event is the keynote speech. In recent years, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have brought the crowd to its feet with rousing closing remarks. This year offered Sarah Palin as the grand finale.
The meaningless event is the straw poll, won virtually every year by retired congressman and frequent gadfly presidential candidate Ron Paul. His offspring, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, was the heavy predictable favorite to win the piece of straw award that gives bragging rights to those who brag about everything anyway.
Palin was phenomenal. She gave the crowd red meat, and sent her leftist critics, who are furious that she even exists, into foaming-at-the-mouth fits of rage. They probably wrote articles shredding the speech before she even gave it. Palin came out fighting and stayed ornery to the end. She read a Dr. Seuss takeoff mocking Obamacare that has been circulating on the internet for a few years, but added a couple of verses of her own.
She reminded the media that in 2008, she predicted Russia’s invasion of Ukraine if Barack Obama were elected president. The media still mocks her, but she was right and they were wrong. Palin is hated by elitist liberal snobs, but she was welcomed warmly and eagerly by a room full of ordinary conservative citizens who dislike elitist liberal snobs.
Palin went after not only liberals, but weak-kneed Republicans who sell conservatives down the river in an attempt to get temporary positive press from those same elitist liberal snobs.
Despite all of the frustration with the Obama administration and its failed liberal policies, Palin closed on a high note, reminding the audience of much that is good about America. Many of the people she mentioned were in that very room. Thunderous applause greeted her throughout her speech to the packed CPAC main room.
While Palin was speaking to the broad center-right coalition, Rand Paul supporters continued to show how their 10 percent of the conservative movement would thrive if only the other 90 percent could be purged from the party. Senator Paul himself is a polite, respectable man who gets plenty of things right. He is also one of the few conservatives willing to go directly to the heart of the moral failings of Bill and Hillary Clinton. His problem is his supporters.
This was not the “Barbarians at the gate” debacle of CPAC 2011. That year, teenage Ron Paul supporters acted like they were in the throws of Beatlemania, screaming like lunatics and shouting down other speakers who disagreed with them. They claimed to be fiscal conservatives while wanting free marijuana.
The Paul movement seems to have gotten the message that optics matter. Even if Ron Paul had a good product, the marketing was terrible. This year his supporters shaved, wore clean shirts and neckties, and acted respectfully. They were passionate while still being sane. They found out that expressing their ideas in a calm, cogent manner was a better approach than clenched fists of rage.
The problem is that Paul’s straw poll victory is still meaningless. Many of Paul’s supporters are youngsters who attend CPAC either for free or at a rock bottom price. The straw poll electorate is not the overall CPAC electorate, since many people are busy holding meetings, networking for business deals, or working on campaigns. The young libertarians have more time to hang out at the bar and organize. Until a CPAC straw poll win turns into actual votes across America, then “Stand with Rand” is no more meaningful then Obama’s “Yes, we can,” or Dr. Seuss’s “Green eggs and ham.” Other presidential candidates will lose little sleep over failing to be elected King of Paulistan on Libertine Libertarian Island.
A more honest straw poll would ask which candidates were not acceptable. The “anybody but a Paul” movement would probably win. Until the Paul supporters change this dynamic, the son of Ron still faces an uphill climb.
Palin is successful because she connects with the entire conservative movement. Nervous moderate Republicans dislike her, but CPAC is a conservative conference.
Palin left the CPAC crowd uplifted and motivated, knowing that the best years of America and CPAC are ahead.
For many younger attendees supporting all candidates, the best hours were ahead. As soon as Palin finished speaking, the Young Jewish Conservatives lit candles to end their Sabbath. Then conservatives of all religions and races gathered at a club called Look for the annual Reaganpalooza celebration.