CPAC rejects dynastic politics by giving the Straw Poll win to the guy whose dad won in 2011.
— LOLGOP (@LOLGOP) February 28, 2015
There’s an established comfort level to media stories about CPAC; it was the place where professional right-wing grifters (Cato, the Heritage Foundation) “sponsored” D-list legacy performers (Rand Paul, Andrew Breitbart) to attract Revolutionary-War cosplayers and Alex Jones listeners within easy physical proximity of K Street lobbyists. Kind of like one of the giant pop-culture conventions, only with less of a sense of humor and a more inimical effect on participants’ mental health. But from media reports, this one seems to have been… different.
Citizens United may have broken CPAC, along with its more dire effects on our social polity. This years’ event seems to have been designed as the first national media unveiling of the Establishment/Wall Street GOP One-Percenters’ 2016 presidential candidate — Jeb Bush — versus the Insurgent/Koch Bros GOP One-Percenters’ ditto: Scott Walker. A truly major marketing campaign, on the scale of Microsoft versus Apple. The common people (consumers, er, voters) who provide the envelope-stuffing, registration-desk-staffing cannon fodder every year, with their quirky obsessions and boutique candidates, seem to have been shunted to the curtain-walled meeting rooms in the overflow wing, to make space for all the media equipment (hardware & wetware) required to funnel the expensively-crafted Top-Rank Studio Projects tidbits & talking points to the buying public.
If there is a if story at #cpac this year, it's the stronger current of interest in winning over purity.
— Ana Marie Cox (@anamariecox) February 28, 2015
Dave Weigel, at Bloomberg Politics:
… Under the leadership of Matt Schlapp, elected to run the American Conservative Union after turns with George W. Bush’s presidential campaign and Koch Industries, the conference has been low on intra-party on-stage fights, low on heckling, and totally absent some of the media debacles that have won coverage in the past.
For example: Columnist Ann Coulter, who has given zinger-laced speeches to packed CPAC ballrooms almost every year since she became a media star, was not invited. “I might just show up anyway just to piss them off,” she joked to Washington Examiner reporter Eddie Scarry. “I could be the Bibi Netanyahu of CPAC.” She didn’t show up, and when asked if she had been invited, Schlapp diplomatically demurred…
Fringe elements roamed the halls, as always. Phil Berg, the attorney who filed the first (2008) lawsuits against Barack Obama’s citizenship, stalked the radio rows and personally appealed to reporters to cover his theories. But white nationalists who’d once gotten into CPAC or held meetings in the same hotel as the conference were largely consigned to the hinterlands. The National Policy Institute held an event featuring several thinkers denounced by the Southern Poverty Law Center, but it was at the National Press Club, a 30-minute drive from CPAC…
— Dante Chinni (@Dchinni) February 27, 2015
Erin Gloria Ryan, at Jezebel, on “10,000 Elephants in the Room“:
… [M]inus right wing personalities’ distinguishing physical traits and quirks, I couldn’t tell you what the fuck they all said. I remember Chris Christie’s gargantuan head and thirsty dickishness, Laura Ingraham’s glinting cross necklace, Sean Hannity’s Bill Clinton impression (which he repeated—to the word—at least a few times over the course of mere days), the grim and tragic retreats of Marco Rubio and Scott Walker’s hairlines, Rand Paul’s winsome attempt at a sensible amount of bronzer, Carly Fiorina’s under-celebrated wardrobe excellence, Rick Santorum’s bizarre preening, John Bolton’s walrus face, Ted Cruz’s pastor-meets-salesman act that kept the crowd rapt. Donald Trump’s whole… thing. In a moment I’m still coming to terms with, Sarah Palin’s speech about health care for veterans was a mostly-coherent standout, save for a joke about Nazis that was delivered so overzealously that Anna and I dissolved into helpless laughter as other members of the media glared at us. The main room was exactly what is shown on TV, exactly what somebody who has never been to CPAC might expect: a bizarre alternate universe where Newt Gingrich is surrounded by fawning fans, where the Duggars are rockstars, and where Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s sanctimonious ramble about STD’s was anything but a reason for mild confusion and alarm.
But in side rooms and in side conversations, CPAC attendees weren’t so puff-chested about their future. Breakout sessions bemoaned the co-opting of “cool” by the Left, strategized on the damaged conservative brand (damaged, in their view, by a left wing media intent on smearing them), looked to get away from barking and Twitter battles return to real grassroots action, the kind of action that inspired conservatives during the Reagan years…
The breakout sessions were all preoccupied with changing how things are presented, and this focus reflects a statistics-borne uncertainty: last year’s elections were a resounding success for the right, but last year’s election turnout was historically low. Presidential elections bring out typically liberal voters—the young, the nonwhite, the unmarried and female—in droves. And with control of both the House and Senate but a White House still in the hands of a Democrat, Republicans have a golden opportunity over the next 18 months to create a stockpile of gaffes the left can (and will) use to motivate their base, while potentially emerging with nothing to show for it in terms of legislation. In order to survive, conservatism needs to either adapt to a changing society or convince a changing society to adapt to them.
Fox News’ stereotypical viewership this was not; young people were everywhere, teetering uncertainly on heels like baby deer, growing visibly starstruck over the sight of Rick Santorum striding down the hall surrounded by security and hangers-on, sternly lecturing an unseen member of their College Republicans club over the phone: “If you’re going to be in this, you have to be in this, you know? You can’t be an officer and miss both CPAC and the March for Life!”…
— Charles Johnson (@Green_Footballs) February 27, 2015
Jeb Lund, for the Guardian:
…[T]he conservative movement is not a bad gig. Including congress, there are 500 jobs to fill. Add state legislatures, and you’re in the thousands. Add aides, staffers, think tank fellows, pollsters, and the jobs jump into the tens of thousands. A few connections at CPAC, and you too might go back to Birmingham, Alabama and become the communications director for the Birming Ham Fighters Who Have Always Been Against The Light Rail Ballot Initiative That Was Unveiled Last Week, or whatever other Koch Brothers redoubt has just been leased downtown. That’s a pretty good job on a pretty sweet ladder, and worth the few hundred dollars on your tickets and down at the Brooks Brothers outlet.
But that kind of self-interested careerism seems to be a cherry on top, to be enjoyed sometime in the future. Ask any amateur attendee what brought them to CPAC and they invariably tell you something that sounds a little like a talking point but that rushes out with enough enthusiasm that it’s clearly not. Any or all of the following appears, in various orders and intensity: “It’s just so great to be part of the renewal of the conservative spirit in America, and I’m just so excited about being able to add my voice to it and to learn what I can do, because I don’t know a lot of conservatives back at my school/office/hometown or at least not ones I agree with, and it’s just great to be here with everyone and get to work.”…
The hero of youth conservatism: Ron Swanson pic.twitter.com/6nRsgcSH1s
— Ben Terris (@bterris) February 26, 2015
Because I am a born-and-bred Democrat, and a devout cynic, it’s not the nutters, it’s the Reasonable People Can Disagree! rebranding that makes me nervous, because there’s nothing your average American low-information voter-at-least-in-presidential-years loves like a rebooted marketing campaign for the same old crap with bright new graphics. Grace Wyler, at Vice, on “White Nationalists, Sarah Palin, and the Slow Death of the Right-Wing Fringe“:
I first covered the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2012, back in the early days of the last Republican presidential primary, when Rick Santorum still seemed like a semi-credible option, and Ron Paul was leading his guerilla takeover of backwater local GOP executive boards. Heady with intra-party rivalries, and still deep in the throes of the Tea Party fever dream, the annual conservative hoedown was at peak l, propping up the darkest elements of the right-wing fringe.
Herman Cain was there, decrying the “gutter politics” that had exposed his habit of harassing women who weren’t his wife in a keynote speech. There was a panel on “The Failure of Multiculturism: How the Pursuit of Diversity Is Weakening the American Identity,” featuring two prominent white nationalists, and another on “Islamic Law in America,” about the creeping scourge of sharia in US courts. The whole thing reached a frenzied peak when a wild-eyed Andrew Breitbart marched outside to go “toe-to-toe” with Occupy Wall Street protesters camped outside the venue, and had to be pulled away by security.
Three years later, a pack of CPAC attendees once again went toe-to-toe with protestors, but this time, the protesters were white nationalists, members of the neo-Confederate League of the South up to picket the conservative gathering. As the event wound down on Saturday, young activists, sporting their proudly CPAC lanyards and Stand With Rand pins, came out to confront the demonstrations, starting a chanting duel that quickly devolved into heated arguments on the sidewalk outside the convention center.
“You actually think the US should separate into different states?” one kid asked a bearded protester carrying a sign that read “Obama Hates White People…And So Does The GOP.” “It’s just…I mean…,” the kid struggled to find the words. “It’s disgusting,” his companion volunteered. Across the street another blazered CPACer shook his head dejectedly. “I’m sorry about this,” he told a nearby photographer. “I’m from ‘Nova. We don’t do that there.” …
Here's full CPAC straw poll results, via Washington Times. Rand Paul wins, edging out Scott Walker. Carson beats Jeb pic.twitter.com/O0R6NnvgsF
— Matt Viser (@mviser) February 28, 2015