The American Conservative Union Foundation celebrated the success of 2011’s CPAC event, touted as the annual gathering of conservative leaders from around the country and more than a few from around the globe as well.
There’s no denying the muscle the event’s organizers flexed with over 11,000 registrants (not be confused with actual attendees- more on the difference later) and having hosted all but a handful of the candidates likely to seek the Republican nomination in next year’s primaries and caucuses.
Yet the piece of news that always gets the most publicity is the conference’s presidential and issue straw poll results.
And the winner is/was…
Not the guy who received the most votes.
One really can’t say that the CPAC straw poll is rigged. But it’s most certainly bought.
There was little doubt that Texas US Representative and outspoken libertarian Ron Paul was going to win the ballot, with only the percentage (30%) uncertain until the numbers were released.
The conference teemed with teens sporting Campaign for Liberty stickers, which might as well have read “Paul 2012” since the congressman founded the organization which beats the drum for Paul’s agenda when he’s not running for the White House.
The Paulistas (I don’t like using the negative sobriquet assigned to Paul supporters) have a knack for winning straw polls (aside from the one that seems to really matter in Ames Iowa) though have no such luck in winning actual primaries and caucuses.
Ex-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who had a PAC presence that was also thinly veiled as a presidential campaign committee, ran second with 23%. The Romney folk also like to “invest” in straw polls, as was evident when free registrations, books and other swag were offered to attendees at last year’s Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. I don’t have documentation that they tried doing the same thing at the 2011 CPAC but I think it would be a fair assumption.
In addition to handing out lapel stickers with a logo that one can just easily visualize on a campaign yard sign, the Romney people were also distributing “Believe in America” stickers that looked oh so similar to Barack Obama’s “Change you can believe in” placard from 2008. I don’t like where this is going.
Third place finisher and ex-New Mexico governor Gary Johnson garnered 6% and I did see his “investment” before my eyes as his PAC booth had a box brimming with pre-paid registration credentials. One has to believe they were not acquired for the purpose of ensuring a packed house for the Grass Roots Activists Two-Minute Panel.
Johnson was not as coy with his intentions with signs that read “Gov. Gary Johnson for President” and “Gary Johnson Rocks!”. Actually “someone” had these signs and stickers made as the beneficiary of such boosting pleaded ignorance on who would go through such great lengths on his behalf. The Johnson and Paul people are cut largely from the same libertarian cloth though the former tend to be far less intense than the latter.
The real winner of the straw poll, who also received 6%, was someone who didn’t even speak at the event and has renounced a run for the presidency in 2012: New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
Considering how much pandering and vote hauling that was happening at CPAC it’s impressive that a non-candidate would not only run third but also finish ahead of ten people who did participate in the conference and for the most part have higher profiles.
I’ll cover Newt’s “Acura” cake next time.
The Campaign for Catcalls?
Ex-Vice-President Dick Cheney was on hand to present his former boss/employee Don Rumsfeld an award. Unfortunately for both, they were not as appreciated by those in the audience as they are by conference’s organizers. Cheney and the former two-time Pentagon chief received resounding boos and catcalls throughout the presentation.
Prior to the presentation, a large walk-out took place, not motivated by a need to use the restroom though more than a few decided to stick around to voice their displeasure.
Most of the boos came from Campaign for Liberty supporters with a few having to be dragged out of the main ballroom for screaming “war criminal” and “draft dodger” amongst other taunts.
When I asked David Keene, the event chairman, about how Rumsfeld reacted to being treated like a heel pro-wrestler, Keene grinned that Rummy loved it.