The Conservative Political Action Conference, one of the year's most important Republican events, has drawn to a close. Many potential Republican presidential candidates delivered passionate speeches to fire up the base, and — despite the controversy over gay conservative group GOProud — a record number attended the event. Here, a look at those who scored at this year's CPAC, and those who went home losers.
The libertarian congressman from Texas won the event's presidential straw poll for the second year running. Indeed, the CPAC event was a Paul-a-thon, says David Weigel at Slate. Paul's organization spent about $100,000 on discounted tickets for conservative students, who turned up in great numbers to support both Ron Paul and his son, Rand. "Paul and Pauls' fans are perhaps the only people in American politics right now who are head over heels in love with their politicians." (Watch a Fox News discussion about Ron Paul's support)
In the absence of Sarah Palin, the Minnesota congresswoman "embraced the role of tea-party cheerleader" in the conference's opening speech, says Joanne Bamberger at Politics Daily. And Bachmann very nearly stole the show, "whipping the conservative crowd into a frenzy" with a speech rich in "red meat buzzwords and phrases." Could she take Palin's Tea Party crown?
The Texas governor gave a devastating, if "familiar" speech on states' rights, filled with "anti-Washington rhetoric," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. "By the end of the address, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand — proving again that if he reconsiders his past pledge not to run for president, he will be a formidable force."
Despite the dust-up over the gay conservative group's presense at CPAC, GOProud managed to win delegates over, reports Nicole Glass at FrumForum. In an informal straw poll, 62 percent of CPACers supported the group's attendance, and only 6 percent opposed it. Indeed, CPAC 2011 was "quite the coming-out affair for GOProud," says Tiffany Stanley at The New Republic. And yet, with continued resistance within the conservative movement, GOProud still faces roadblocks.
Even though Romney came second in the presidential straw poll, he was indisputably a "big CPAC loser," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. His speech ignored the big elephant in the room — namely, the ObamaCare-style healthcare law he passed while governor of Massachussets. Unless he "does a mea culpa on RomneyCare," he hasn't a hope of winning the nomination.
The real estate magnate and reality-TV star managed to get delegates' tongues wagging about a possible presidential bid — but that didn't translate into voter support. In CPAC's presidential straw poll, Trump failed to gain 5 percent of the vote. Worse yet, Trump was booed and jeered by Paul fans for declaring that the Texas congressman had "zero chance" of being elected president.
Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney
The ex-defense secretary was presented with a "defender of the constitution award" by former Bush administration colleague Dick Cheney — amid crowd jeers of "war criminal!" and "murdering scum!" The heckles didn't come from anti-war liberals, says James Antle at The Guardian, but from libertarians for whom "dubbing the two Iraq war architects 'defenders of the constitution' was like having John Edwards present Bill Clinton with a defender of monogamy award."
The Alaskan conservative chose not to attend CPAC — earning mockery from two key attendees. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum suggested she might be too busy looking after her children to attend, while Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) "ever-so-gently tweaked" Palin's reality TV show during his speech. "The closest I've come to being on a reality TV show is C-SPAN's live coverage of the Senate floor," he told delegates. Palin was further upstaged by a convincing lookalike, who became a mini-sensation at the conference.
The liberal New York Times columnist didn't have much luck at CPAC, reports John Phillips at the Los Angeles Times. Lacking the "right papers," Dowd was forced to work in the "tiny, overcrowded, poorly-equipped 'Media' room," instead of the "large, lavish, candy-filled 'Blogger' room." A bristling MoDo even "dropped the celebrity nuclear bomb" of asking "Do you know who I am?" — but to no avail: Dowd remained in the smaller room.