Mitt Romney may have won the straw poll at the end of the three-day Conservative Political Action Conference in D.C. over the weekend, but CPAC's real star was Sarah Palin, says Josh Lederman at The Hill. Among the many speakers, the former Alaska governor "received far-and-away the most spirited and enthusiastic reception" from the 10,000 conservative activists in attendance. And the former vice presidential candidate, who opted out of the 2012 presidential race in October, "appeared to relish her role as conservative attack dog, blasting Obama and Democrats," and bringing the crowd repeatedly to its feet. Is Palin, even from her spot on the sidelines, a dangerous threat to the president's re-election campaign?

Palin is more powerful than ever: Most politicians — including President Obama and his GOP rivals — "talk to their audiences or, worse, at them," says Andrew Malcolm at Investor's Business Daily. But Palin "speaks for them." She ignites Republican crowds and reminds them "what they can accomplish this year and beyond if united." And since she's not a candidate, she can remain in attack mode all the time without worrying about playing defense — which makes her Obama's worst nightmare.
"How does Sarah Palin connect so well with her crowds?"

But her sparkle makes the real candidates look dull: In one night at CPAC, the former GOP vice presidential candidate fired off "a year's worth of sarcastic one-liners at 'Professor Obama,'" says Melinda Henneberger at The Washington Post. When she mocked Obama's "winning the future" jobs plan as "WTF," it was positively "whoop-inducing." But it also "flat-out depressed some in the crowd," because they don't get nearly as fired up about the actual Republican candidates.
"CPAC 2012: Sarah Palin, motivator-in-chief"

In the end, Palin hurts the GOP: "This used to be the party of ideas," says Craig Medred at Alaska Dispatch. But Palin is stirring up Republicans with "silliness and clichés as if they amounted to some sort of political philosophy." Her pep talk "made conservatives look to have become the party of God, slobber, and nonsense." It's a sad day for the GOP when it rejects "thinkers" like Newt Gingrich and embraces Palin, who "traffics in jingles" but doesn't have "a clue how to fix this nation's problems."
"Palin's CPAC speech more rah-rah than substance"