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CPAC auditions – who gained, who lost and who cares?

March 2, 2015

Politicians are by necessity, chameleons. Given that customarily less than 50% of all eligible voters actually vote in the primaries, politicians this early on aren’t auditioning to impress voters.

CPAC was all about impressing the big donors. It takes an obscene amount of money to mount a Presidential campaign. Think of it like going to the bank and applying for a loan to build a new city the size of LA or NYC instead of a three-bedroom two-bath bungalow in the suburbs.

Funding big projects means the investors have to believe you can bring the project to completion. In politics, the person who keeps their foot out of their mouth the most adeptly will get second looks. The person who rouses the crowd  AND keeps their foot out of their mouth gets a third look.

That’s primarily the purpose of CPAC for most conservative candidates.

You have to judge the results of the hopefuls by the established standard of the venue. CPAC represents the most conservative viewpoints. All the whooping, hollering and cat-calling simply reflects who had the organizational edge in importing the best cheering sections.

In case you want to discount CPAC as just another beauty contest, note that the right-leaning part of the country is far more polarized than it was back in the Reagan or even Clinton years.  That achievement will be President Obama’s real legacy. Anyone in the conservative political movement that even whispers the words “negotiate or compromise” is seen as providing aid and comfort to the enemy and thus becomes the enemy.

The latest posted Gallup poll of voter political preferences shows the country fairly evenly split between the Democrats (44%) and Republicans (43%), with approximately 14% apparently not revealing a statistically significant preference. The poll includes the influence of those parties on the 43% of poll respondents who identified themselves as independents, and they are the ones that are likely to stay home if they don’t like any of the candidates.

Most of the old Republican establishment money is going to Jeb Bush. His 8.3 % fifth-place finish at CPAC simply reflects the collective hard right political viewpoint of the CPAC voters. His biggest gain was to vocalize his “let’s be for something in America, not against everything” strategic plan.

CPAC aside, the former Florida governor appeals to the center of the electorate, many of  whom view the far-right element as acting like a bunch of cranky children who need a nap but won’t take one. The debacle over the last-ditch DHS funding and the subsequent temper tantrums by the hard right members of Congress certainly did nothing to dispel that assessment.

The chances that Rand  Paul will go any further than he did the last two times he won the CPAC straw poll are slim to none.

If there was a big winner, it was Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.  So, what did he win?

Governor Walker is just enough toward the center that he doesn’t sound like a nut, while still espousing many popular farther right principles. That apparently appealed to the “anybody-but-another-Bush” wing at CPAC.

Will that translate to enough dollars for a serious challenge to Bush?

Not unless Walker can  learn the difference between the state and national stage. His comment linking winning out over union protestors to defeating ISIL sounded like adolescent braggadocio. He could have turned that comment into “I have proven that I have the backbone to fight for the people of Wisconsin, and I will fight to defend America from her enemies regardless of location or ideology” and probably locked up at least a few more high-dollar donors.

If he can show that he can learn from his mistakes he may move on, but he’s going to have to get squared away PDQ. Going back too many times to say “what I really meant was…” shows a strong tendency toward foot-in-mouth syndrome, an ailment with a very high mortality rate.

CPAC provided a look into the ultra-right strategy. They are still running against President Obama and will undoubtedly portray any Democratic candidate as Obama 2.0.

That might work for the 21% or so of the people who consider themselves mostly or very conservative, but it still takes over 50% to win elections.

From → op-ed

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