CPAC: Winners, losers, or just a debate?

posted at 10:01 am on March 10, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Who were the winners and losers at CPAC? You’ll see a lot of that kind of commentary in the media after the end of the conference, but to a large extent it misses the point — especially when it’s based on the straw poll that takes place during CPAC. James Hohmann makes that mistake at Politico in an otherwise interesting analysis, but he’s hardly alone:

Rand Paul romped, Ted Cruz flopped. Chris Christie made nice with the right and Marco Rubio learned that talking up foreign interventionism is about the last way to win over the crowd.

So went CPAC 2014.

Paul showed again that the conference – filled with young, libertarian leaning Republicans – is his home field and then some. The Kentucky senator won the conference straw poll with 31 percent, nearly tripling the vote count for Cruz, the second place finisher. Rubio finished seventh, after almost beating Paul in the CPAC straw poll a year ago.

Take the results for what they are; the crowd here is a slice of the GOP base, not representative of it. But it does offer one indication of who’s exciting conservatives as 2016 speculation heats up.

Take the results for what they are … which is nothing much. The straw poll is fun for attendees, a tool for political organizers, and catnip for journalists. The last such poll not to be won by someone named Paul or Romney was 2005, when George Allen won it. And yet the media still eats up these straw polls as if they’re meaningful in either a predictive or temperature-taking way.

One of the more understandable if annoying impulses of covering such a wide-ranging conference is the need to build an overarching narrative of an event designed to frame debates over policy and politics. I discussed this with a journalist assigned to CPAC, who joked that it made it easier to justify the not-insignificant expense of covering it. Having gone on the road to cover events myself, I understand that impulse, but for political conferences that cover such a broad spectrum of politics, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. Yes, there’s debate at CPAC, but that doesn’t mean that conservatives are “fractured” (as one newspaper headline put it), or at least not really evidence of such a fracture; it’s just evidence that the CPAC structure works. No one who has ever attended a CPAC expects to hear three days of lockstep thought on politics, nor would it get the kind of attendance it does if that’s all CPAC offered.

On the last day of the conference, I spoke with American Conservative Union chair Al Cardenas about the composition of CPAC as well as its purpose. I asked Cardenas specifically about the lack of a pro-life panel at CPAC, as well as the addition of a panel debate on marijuana legalization. Cardenas replied that we have already won the debate on the right on pro-life cause, and we need to set the debate on topics that are still in flux:

We also spoke about the need to expand American conservative values abroad. Cardenas agreed, and later thanked me for bringing up the topic. We tend to focus mostly on pushing those values here at home, and that’s tough enough, but we need to make the case on the international stage, too. Perhaps that’s even more important when the current US government is so hostile to those values.

No one will pack up their tents based on the CPAC straw poll or the relative applause metering of the speeches, and no one will unfurl their banners on that basis, either. There were no “losers” at CPAC, but there was three days of very intense debate over a wide range of issues, plus opportunities to hear from movement leaders of the past, present, and future. The winners were the attendees.

Addendum: I still have more CPAC videos and will post them over the next couple of days.

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CPAC is much like the Republican Party itself: controlled by people who are NOT conservatives, but who will pay conservatism lip service to win elections. Conservatives are to the Republican Party what blacks are to the Democrats: Expected to show up and vote, and then be taken for granted the rest of the year.

ConstantineXI on March 10, 2014 at 10:05 AM

Politico: “They all sort of sucked. Vote Killary in 2016.”

MJBrutus: “Great idea!”

Bishop on March 10, 2014 at 10:05 AM

“This year we put a 12 on the box.”

Murphy9 on March 10, 2014 at 10:08 AM

Rand Paul romped, Ted Cruz flopped. [...] The Kentucky senator won the conference straw poll with 31 percent, nearly tripling the vote count for Cruz, the second place finisher

If Ted Cruz finished second and ‘flopped’, I guess that means Christie, Rubio, et al met with unmitigated disaster, right?

ElectricPhase on March 10, 2014 at 10:08 AM

Bishop on March 10, 2014 at 10:05 AM

Only if she promises amnesty!!!

Cindy Munford on March 10, 2014 at 10:09 AM

Cardenas replied that we have already won the debate on the right on pro-life cause, and we need to set the debate on topics that are still in flux

We’ve already won the debate on Obamacare, too. Let’s not talk about that anymore, either.

steebo77 on March 10, 2014 at 10:09 AM

No one will pack up their tents . . .

You guys had tents?

Missed opportunity to camp with friends aside (damn it) — I’m not sure CPAC is . . .

Matters.

. . . Much.

Axe on March 10, 2014 at 10:09 AM

The 3 best speeches of CPAC was Perry, Cruz, and Palin. I also liked Bobby Jindal. And please tell me why does the Donald even show up at these events. He’s just a showman

ConservativePartyNow on March 10, 2014 at 10:10 AM

ElectricPhase on March 10, 2014 at 10:08 AM

It will be interesting to see how all that pans out in the public arena, invitations to guest on shows and articles being written. I suspect a theme will develop and oddly enough Ted Cruz will be the only man left out.

Cindy Munford on March 10, 2014 at 10:10 AM

They can loft blimps, hang overpass signs, pack bowls, and win straw polls.

Murphy9 on March 10, 2014 at 10:12 AM

He’s just a showman

ConservativePartyNow on March 10, 2014 at 10:10 AM

I think you answered your own question.

Cindy Munford on March 10, 2014 at 10:12 AM

Winners:

Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz. (pencil this in at ANY event)

Losers: Everyone forming the Conga line behind Christie…

ToddPA on March 10, 2014 at 10:14 AM

Cardenas looks like a Staight Shooter, huh?

ToddPA on March 10, 2014 at 10:16 AM

…who cares what happened in Iowa?

KOOLAID2 on March 10, 2014 at 10:18 AM

Cardenas replied that we have already won the debate on the right on pro-life cause

It’s been won? The issue of gun control hasn’t been ‘won’. What makes him think that’s been?

Lanceman on March 10, 2014 at 10:20 AM

Cardenas looks like a Staight Shooter, huh?

ToddPA on March 10, 2014 at 10:16 AM

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Bitter Clinger on March 10, 2014 at 10:24 AM

Who were the winners and losers at CPAC?

LOSER: CPAC

That organization is nothing but a bad joke. CPAC can go run off with Chrispy Chreme, Retardo Rubio, and the rest of the worms. Useless idiots.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on March 10, 2014 at 10:25 AM

Cardenas looks like a Staight Shooter, huh?

ToddPA on March 10, 2014 at 10:16 AM

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Bitter Clinger on March 10, 2014 at 10:24 AM

EXACTLY!!

ToddPA on March 10, 2014 at 10:27 AM

The only things worth remembering for me, and I paraphrase:

Cruz – Abolish the IRS.

Palin – Enough with this rebranding crap. Get down to conservative brass tacks.

Dongemaharu on March 10, 2014 at 10:28 AM

Rand Paul romped, Ted Cruz flopped.

Cruz improved 7 points from last year, vs. 6 points for Rand

Jon0815 on March 10, 2014 at 10:36 AM

The Chamber of Cronies at CPAC make me want to vomit. This guy Hot Air is promoting makes my skin crawl.

I guess we are independents. Can’t see myself associated with the anti-military, Chamber tax raisers, pro-amnesty snake oil salesmen. Crazy these guys think this is a winning strategy – Vote with Harry Reid and win Red State voter!

Turn out is going to stink. I smell protest vote.

TAARP on March 10, 2014 at 10:37 AM

The Chamber of Cronies at CPAC make me want to vomit. This guy Hot Air is promoting makes my skin crawl.

I guess we are independents. Can’t see myself associated with the anti-military, Chamber tax raisers, pro-amnesty snake oil salesmen. Crazy these guys think this is a winning strategy – Vote with Harry Reid and win Red State voter!

Turn out is going to stink. I smell protest vote.

TAARP on March 10, 2014 at 10:37 AM

Who’s that?

Axe on March 10, 2014 at 10:40 AM

Rick Perry had the best speech followed closely by Sarah Palin.

Paul and Jindal had some of the best lines.

I didn’t care for Cruz’s speech but to each their own.

gophergirl on March 10, 2014 at 10:42 AM

Cardenas – big amnesty/rewards for invaders freak.

VorDaj on March 10, 2014 at 10:43 AM

LOSER: CPAC

That organization is nothing but a bad joke. CPAC can go run off with Chrispy Chreme, Retardo Rubio, and the rest of the worms. Useless idiots.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on March 10, 2014 at 10:25 AM

And amnesty/rewards for invaders freak Cardenas and islam freaks Suhail Khan and Grover Norquist.

“Statement of Facts” signed by former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, former U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, former U.S. representative and retired Army Lt. Col. Allen B. West, retired U.S. Navy Adm. James A. Lyons, retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and former Pentagon intelligence official William G. Boykin, former Pentagon Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz, former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy, former Ambassador Henry F. Cooper, former FBI Special Agent John Guandolo and former CIA officer Clare Lopez.

VorDaj on March 10, 2014 at 10:50 AM

Rand Paul may have won, but 69% of the people DIDN’T vote for him. It was a foregone conclusion that Rand Paul was going to win when you saw all the young people there. I think the 2nd place finisher is much more important.

DebinRTP on March 10, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Bummed for our party. Don’t see how this is going to end well. I can’t think of one thing that the CPAC crowds represents the people. They scream about unreasonable demands for purity, yet they don’t seem to represent or acknowledge issues that matter to most republican voters.

TAARP on March 10, 2014 at 11:09 AM

Anyone who heard the speeches at CPAC would have to agree that Ted Cruz was the hands-down winner. Just the crowd reaction alone will tell you that. He brought the house down! Ted Cruz is without question the brightest star on the GOP horizon, and I sincerely hope he decides to run for POTUS in 2016. America needs Ted Cruz.

Bob Davis on March 10, 2014 at 11:18 AM

This guy Ed Morrissey is interviewing, Al Cardenas, is a huge promoter of illegal alien amnesty:

http://youtu.be/j3bgwTr7d9o

bluegill on March 10, 2014 at 11:28 AM

We haven’t won the pro-life debate yet, otherwise we would have Senators Akin and Mourdock now. Although ANY abortion is murder, we need to revise our position to allow exceptions where abortion should be legal–in case of rape, incest, or pregnancies endangering the life of the mother. Many women are afraid of being raped, and don’t want some politician telling them they MUST carry a child who will be a constant reminder of the man who raped them.
Since only about 1.5% of pregnancies are the result of rape or incest, an abortion ban with such exceptions will save over 98% of the babies now aborted, and represent a majority position allowing pro-life candidates to be elected. You can’t govern until you’re elected.

Other than the obvious issue of repealing Obamacare, Bobby Jindal hit upon a potential winning issue for Republicans: school vouchers for parents of children in failing public schools. This program has helped thousands of poor children in Louisiana, most of them black or Hispanic. What better way to win “minority” votes than promising their children a better education, and a better future career, than what they have? This is a great idea, and should be generalized among Republican candidates across the country.

Steve Z on March 10, 2014 at 11:32 AM

Big Al is ready for the remake of Goodfellas. He looked good in the M&M commercial with yellow in the trunk. I lost interest in what anyone at CPAC thinks when they gave Christy a standing O. Just a bunch of Washington Elite wannabes.

RickinNH on March 10, 2014 at 12:01 PM

Just to provide a little counterbalance to the CPAC poll… Senate Conservatives Fund ran a poll which was also announce on Saturday. Out of the over 41,000 who responded, Ted Cruz was first with 42.46% of the vote. Rand Paul finished a distant second with 17.38%.

The CPAC poll had less than 2,500 participants.

So, who you gonna believe? The only problem I see is that nobody is talking about the SCF poll.

jffree1 on March 10, 2014 at 12:45 PM

It’s been won? The issue of gun control hasn’t been ‘won’. What makes him think that’s been?

Lanceman

It’s code for “let’s surrender on the issue because the dems might win if we don’t give up”.

xblade on March 10, 2014 at 1:09 PM

the CPAC straw poll is a Paul family love fest. Rand the past two years and it was perpetually Ron Paul before that. Libertarians are not Republicans, allowing them into our events doesn’t strengthen the party, it weakens it. Rand Paul probably will not run for president if he plans to stay married to the same woman he is now. She’s against it, 200%! So go ahead and vote him into all the straw polls you want, it ain’t gonna happen!

Boats48 on March 10, 2014 at 1:40 PM

Rick Perry had the best speech followed closely by Sarah Palin.

Paul and Jindal had some of the best lines.

I didn’t care for Cruz’s speech but to each their own.

gophergirl on March 10, 2014 at 10:42 AM

Perry’s speech was best because it was short (11 minutes!), educational and inspiring. All he needs to do is add a line about how the Federal Gov’t needs to stop spying on honest Americans and you have a message that will resonate in every state and on every college campus in America.

Must be the hipster glasses!

monalisa on March 10, 2014 at 2:45 PM

I thought Palin gave one of her best ever speeches. I’m also a big Cruz fan. But my favorite of the weekend was Santorum. He laid out a positive vision in a way that wasn’t the same old same old. My heart breaks the way he gets so easily ridiculed and dismissed. Go ahead, jump on me.

ncinca on March 10, 2014 at 5:40 PM

Rand Paul romped, Ted Cruz flopped. Chris Christie made nice with the right and Marco Rubio learned that talking up foreign interventionism is about the last way to win over the crowd.

What you have here is an agenda-biased liar.

Politico is a Washington D.C. operation, full of liberals. Everyone in D.C. media knows that there are no conservatives in town (why would there be?). There are, however, lots and lots of nutty Libertarian Ronulans who occasionally latch themselves onto Rand Paul.

Oh…and CPAC is a D.C. thing. No one just decides to go to CPAC from Kansas City unless the boss is paying for it.

Jaibones on March 10, 2014 at 10:03 PM