14 February 2011

Making Sense of 2011 CPAC

Lamestream Media reports about the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) centered on either unsubstantiated rumors of former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) snubbing CPAC keynote speech with prejudice or the anomaly of libertarian Republican Ron Paul again winning the CPAC straw poll.  Even sympathetic established media sources keyed in on supposed rifts between conservatives at CPAC.

Gov. Palin had never attended CPAC and did not speak ill of the event.  Considering the Lamestream media’s creative quotations of Palin regarding the Super Bowl Star Spangled Banner, Lamestream sources should be seen skeptically with their current bĂȘte noir of Sarah Palin.

One of the sponsored of the 2011 CPAC was GoProud, a Gay Conservative Group. Prior to the meeting, there was some press about objecting to this outreach.  When entering the conference hall, an activist handed literature which protested this sponsorship, but this propaganda was quickly deposited in the circular file.  I would characterize it as a difference of opinion with some social conservatives, but a rift seems like an overstatement to attract headlines.  Another friction of factions was regarding groups and individuals who had ties to Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups.  A couple of the think tanks which are held in high esteem by most CPAC participants, namely Center for Security Policy and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy ran programs which may stick in their craws.  This difference between factions does not threaten to tear CPAC apart.

As for the straw poll results, a lesson in politics and polling quickly dispels any illusions about the results that elated the Paulistinians (sic).  There were 11,000 registered participants at CPAC but there were only 3,000 votes in the straw poll.  About 1,000 students were recruited as volunteers and Ron Paul’s organization recruited and possibly rewarded participating students in the Campaign for Liberty.   Strangely enough, one third of the voters may have been students and Ron Paul took 37% of the straw poll votes.  Coincidence?

These young activists would certainly be more open to Libertarian notions, particularly the platform of legalizing drugs.  So such partisans would get hopped up to make a point and grab a headline.  What should give a clue of the phantom force of the libertarians is the high placement of former Gov. Gary Johnson (R-NM) in the straw poll.  Johnson is famous for boosting for marijuana decriminalization during his second term as governor.   What reveals the skewing of the straw poll by libertarians was by cross-tabulating the first and second place votes for Ron Paul and Gary Johnson.   Both candidates scored about 30 percent of the straw vote, which is greatly over-represents the Libertarian faction in the Republican party.

On the hustings, Ron Paul never comes close to winning any contested primary elections.  So a great way to garner great press and give the illusion of strong support is to win a straw poll, which has more to do with organization of activists and allocation of campaign resources.  Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) came in second place this year, but he “won” the CPAC straw polls from 2006-2008 by expending lots of “resources” to get the straw poll title.  To Mitt’s chagrin, those victories did not necessarily translate to primary victories in early contests in 2008.

CPAC is a rare opportunity for right minded individuals to gather Between the Beltways.  But some impressions are deceiving.  I am not just skeptical about straw poll results.  There can be an aura of political rock star around some of the attendees.  Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) reportedly gave a great speech, but does that vault him to the front tier of undeclared Republican candidates?  Newt and his wife Callista seemed ever present with their education efforts on Thursday, but was that to lay the base for a White House run or to stoke the intellectual fires of CPAC attendees?  Does Sarah Palin’s low polling in the straw poll show weak support amongst activists or was it a situation of “Out of sight, out of mind”?

The one conclusion that I have discerned from CPAC is the importance of plain talk.  Not like Senator McCain’s ersatz “Straight Talk Express” bus rides with jocular media “supporters”. But recognizing the real problems which America faces.  From former Ambassador John Bolton and Saturday Keynote Speaker freshman Rep. Allen West (R-FL 22nd) to Gov. Daniels, right leaning activists respond enthusiastically to plain talk about problems.  That mirrors the results stemming from Frank Luntz’ State of the Union Hawkeye focus group.

Personally, I'm still listening electively.  But I can safely say that one should not expect a soft focus gauzy “It’s Morning in America” style of campaigning of 1984 during the 2012 Presidential Campaign.  As unstylish and wonky as it may be, my impression of CPAC is that a 1992 Perot styled “Let’s pull up the hood and look at the engine” style of campaigning.  So much for hopey-changey hustings.

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