Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Irrelevants on Parade
The 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) finished up this weekend in Washington D.C. The political press on both left and right love this thing because there are always plenty of sound bites, and this year was no exception. We got to hear Michael Steele say "my bad" about things he was not actually responsible for, exceedingly white Michele Bachmann practice her ebonics, Newt Gingrich complain that Obama will continue the failed Bush policies, and Rush Limbaugh get the Defender of the Constitution award, only to make the standard schoolboy error of mistaking the Declaration of Independence for the Constitution, and misquoting even that.
What the press didn't bring up is that the irrelevance of CPAC, and not just because it's a bunch of people backing the losing party of the last two national elections, whining about an administration that is barely one month into a four year term. For whatever reasons, two rising stars of the Republican Party, Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal, decided not to attend, though they would have been in front of adoring throngs. What could make them think that this is a party they could miss?
If you look at the CPAC straw polls, the choices for president for those who attend the convention, you will see that this group doesn't speak for the larger Republican Party and hasn't done so for many years.
Here are the results of the 2009 CPAC presidential straw poll.
Mitt Romney 20 %
Bobby Jindal 14 %
Ron Paul 13 %
Sarah Palin 13 %
Newt Gingrich 10 %
Undecided 9 %
Mike Huckabee 7 %
Mark Sanford 4 %
Rudy Guiliani 3 %
Tim Pawlenty 2 %
Charlie Crist 1 %
For the third year running, the folks who show up at this yearly shindig have thrown their support behind Mitt Romney, the guy with the good hair, lots of money and no national appeal. In 2007, he was the top of a pack like the one in 2009 with 21% of the attendees supporting him, and he had 35% support in 2008, narrowly edging John McCain at 34%. Recall that 2008 poll is taken after the Republican race is already decided. By late February, no one but McCain is winning primaries on the Republican side, but the "activists" at CPAC still can't get behind him. There's a guy making a video called How Obama Got Elected, and his theory is that the media was completely in the tank for Obama and unfairly destroyed Sarah Palin. An alternate theory is that the right wing's heart really wasn't in this one. The sniping in early 2008 at McCain from people like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, people who did show up at the irrelevant weekend this year, hurt McCain later in the year with the committed right wing, and even the addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket, with the clear signals that she wasn't on the inside of the campaign, didn't bring the base back as hoped.
Let's look at the numbers for the straw polls in 1999 and 2000, an election cycle that was more successful for the conservatives, though let's recall that Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 and the election itself had to be decided by the Supreme Court. Here are the 1999 CPAC straw poll results.
Gary Bauer 28%
George W. Bush 24%
Steve Forbes 10%
Elizabeth Dole 9%
Others with more than 1% each: Dan Quayle, John Kusich, Pat Buchanan, John Ashcroft
In 1999, Gary Bauer, a guy who can't get elected dog catcher, wins a plurality of the CPAC vote. Bush did finish a close second, but this is a room full of folks whose dream candidate for president is a religious nut with no political base. The addition of Steve Forbes in third shows that the people who attend CPAC are split between people who want Jesus to be president and others whose favorite fantasy is a 0% tax rate.
When CPAC 2000 is held, the primary season is already underway, and it's clearly a two person race between Bush and McCain, with Bush having all the momentum after a few early losses. Here's what the CPACkers wanted, followed by the percentage of votes cast for each candidate throughout the 2008 Republican primary season.
Bush 42% (62%)
Keyes 23% (5%)
Forbes 14% (1%)
McCain 11% (31%)
The activist base hated McCain in 2000, preferring unelectable losers like Alan Keyes and Steve Forbes. The guy who was obviously going to be their standard bearer couldn't pull down a majority of the people who attended this, barely eight months before the general election. This is a room full of guys who can't sway the opinions of people who generally agree with them, so married to their ideals that they are irrelevant when it comes to winning elections.
I was going to compare CPAC to Yearly Kos, the netroots progressive meeting held in August each year, but Yearly Kos attendees are a more pragmatic. They don't have a straw poll, but instead an online poll at DailyKos, so it doesn't reflect the views of the attendees. For there to be a left-wing mirror organization to CPAC, the Green Party would have to merge with the Peace & Freedom Party. That would give you a left-wing meeting as pointless as CPAC has become today.
UPDATE: I was over at the library on campus, and went to Lexis Nexis to look up the 2005 straw poll results. The only article I could find gave only the top two vote-getters, Rudy Giuliani at 19% and Condi Rice at 18%. I found this interesting, because this would have been when the conservative movement was at its recent high water mark, and clearly they had no idea how to move forward. Even the conference organizer stated that the names were at the top of the list simply on the basis of celebrity.