The final day at CPAC has come and gone. The speeches have stopped and the supporters have gone home, but not before one last hurrah. The straw poll was today, as well as speeches by Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, Ambassador John Bolton, and the closing remarks by Florida congressman Allen West. While few in number, the speakers on this final day were some of the best of the conference, and the straw poll results created the buzz typical straw polls create: jubilation for the supporters of the winner, despite its lack of importance.
The straw poll was without a doubt the highlight of the day, and with most highlights, it occurred at the very end. Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas, won for the second year in a row with 37% of the vote. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney finished in second place with 31%, followed by Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson with 21%, New Jersey governor Chris Christie at 16%, and Former Speaker Newt Gingrich at 11%. The announcement of the results rocked the ballroom, which was packed with Ron Paul supporters. As a Ron Paul supporter, I was one of those that applauded, but since I was holding a camera and a laptop I couldn’t really join my hollering friends in celebration. While the conference is geared towards students (about 50% of the registrants), who make up the bulk of Paul’s support group, winning a field as large as CPAC is an accomplishment, especially with the dedicated support this man has, good to have in a Presidential campaign. There are a few points that need to be cleared up about this straw poll, namely how only 30% of those who were at CPAC voted. The small number of voters meant that only the committed supporters of a particular candidate would vote, which Ron Paul supporters are. The other factor to consider is that we are still a year away from primary season, so many of the candidates on the ballot will not be on the ballots in Iowa or New Hampshire, or more can be added on. So congratulations to Ron Paul for winning two years in a row, but to his supporters, if you actually want him to win in New Hampshire, you’re going to have to go beyond the CPAC ballroom and get others involved.
As for the speeches of the day, the few that spoke offered a mixed bag of topics, from foreign affairs to stump speeches to reasons why America is awesome. The morning kicked off with Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, an amiable man from a state that is the “safest place to have an unborn child”. Barbour has been touted by many conservative blogs and media outlets as one of the frontrunners, should he decide to run, and with a record of eight years of balanced budgets, low taxes, and textbook disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Still, his biggest challenge will be the media’s interpretation of his candidacy; he’s a southern white governor running against the nation’s first black President. I can only imagine media outlets playing this one off.
Barbour’s speech was about how the GOP should run on principled conservative platforms in 2012, or else suffer “quick defeat”. Such platforms include a pro-life agenda (one Barbour helped push through a Democrat legislature), low taxes (9.2% cut in his 8 years as governor), and more accountable government programs (Medicaid error rate fifth-lowest in country, $50 million per year saved). In an effort to boost support outside the South, he gave shoutouts to Governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, and Chris Christie of New Jersey on their commitment to shrinking the size of government, as well as successes each governor has had. He also hit Obama on his energy policy, calling it an attack on our economy in its most vital sector. It wasn’t an emphasis one would expect from a Southern governor from either party, because the trade in energy and renewable resources is very small in that part of the country, far from the coal-rich states of Appalachia whose politicians shoot holes in the cap-and-trade bill. He does make an important point however; if we are taxed for the energy we consume at higher rates than we are right now, it will be more difficult for businesses and consumers to keep doors open and trucks moving, thus making commerce more difficult. As for the next two years, the Barbour plan of action is for the GOP to take the White House and Senate by winning the support of “American workers, corporate executives, and mama grizzlies”, an homage to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (who was not at CPAC this year), and the many Americans who the GOP must win over for the ultimate goal of the Presidency to be theirs.
Getting into the realm of international affairs, Ambassador John Bolton discussed how conservatism can work in the arena of foreign policy, a subject that other speakers only briefly mentioned. John Bolton was our UN ambassador for two years under George W. Bush who was noted for his far-right, “America first” platform, a position that lead to a lot of criticism from liberals, as well as the fact that he was a recess appointment. As expected of a former diplomat, he gave a speech on foreign policy, specifically Egypt, whose President just resigned in the face of two weeks of protests. Bolton called on Obama to support democracy in Egypt and the rest of the world, but not to allow violent extremists to field candidates, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, a multi-national, Iran-backed group promoting Islamic law in the Arab World. While I respect Bolton, the thought of telling other countries which political groups should be allowed to field candidates sounds very undemocratic. If political parties like Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas win, we should only be worried if the elections were rigged, or fraud was in place, which may be the case in these countries, but if the elections are fair, that’s democracy for you: you don’t always win. In addition to that, Egypt is currently under a military-led transition government until the next election, which was on the side of the protesters, so there really is no stable government to back up at this moment to carry out this policy. The best course of action for Egypt is to wait until the elections are over and try to forge good relations with the new government, which Bolton supports.
Bolton also criticized Obama for the passing of the new START treaty, which he claims will cripple our ability to protect our allies and ourselves from nuclear attack, as well as his inability to secure trade agreements with nations like South Korea, Panama and Columbia. Bolton called for a strong national defense that is ready for anything, as well as the continuation of America as a backer of democracy and a force against tyranny around the world, earning a modest response from the audience. While Bolton is not a presidential candidate this time around, there are rumors that he may run in 2016, but to do so would mean focusing more on domestic policy, which I personally believe he is ill-equipped to deal with. His speech was solid, and provided valuable insight on foreign affairs that any presidential candidate must have, but it wasn’t the “stump speech” that other speakers had throughout the weekend.
The final speech of the conference was delivered by Representative Allan West of Florida, and it was clear the organizers of CPAC saved the best for last. Chosen largely because he is a Tea Party backed freshman, his speech served as a rallying point for the audience to spread what was learned this weekend and share it with everybody back home. Mentioning how he is already being targeted by Democrats for defeat in 2012 one month into his new term, he laid out his vision for Congress over the next two years, which includes repealing ObamaCare, and instituting a balanced budget amendment. With exclamations of “This is the Time”, he got the audience to its feet in what may’ve been the record for standing ovations this year with at least eight. As a member of the Tea Party, West is in a position of strength despite being only a freshman, as the movement is already making an imprint on the policies of the Republican Party. Advocating a strong national defense, a government committed to cutting costs, and a party committed to defeating Obama in 2012, West ended the conference with a sense of anticipation, celebration, and a renewed drive to continue fighting the conservative fight wherever it is necessary.
To sum up my three days at CPAC 2011, I would have to say that if you are a committed conservative, you should go to at least one conference in your lifetime. The amount of energy and excitement this conference generates every year is unmatched, with anything and everything a conservative activist could wish for in one place at one time. Also, nowhere else can you see great politicians, speakers, journalists, and writers past and future up close and personal, without paying ridiculous prices or knowing a friend of a friend. If you do go, try to go after a victorious election season (hopefully CPAC 2013), where the buzz will be at its peak. Bad election cycles are still energetic, but the mood is more about checking liberalism and not running the country.
There is no cause greater than the restoration of our republic and our government, and there is no place better to get it going like CPAC.