(A photoshop--but a good one--and a dismal one for Team Mitt)
The "CPAC" Conservative Political Action Conference has kicked off in DC this Thursday with an opening scorcher of a speech by Marco Rubio blasting Obama for the contraception requirements. Sarah Palin will make the keynote speech, re-emerging like a jack-in-the-box, after a long winter's nap. It's a cheerleading conference for the Republicans and the most anticipated conservative event of the year.
But not this year. TPM Reports attendees are actually despondent. TPM is liberal--but the conservative blog Red State (whose Erick Erickson already endorsed the Sweet Meteor of Death) says:
This is the seventh CPAC I have been to. The crowd is the least excited I have seen. On the first day, before the candidates have had a chance to bus in their supporters to stack the deck and straw poll, this is the least excited I’ve seen them. The crowd’s heart is with Santorum. But in their mind they do not think he can win.Powerline, today, asks "Is 2012 Slipping Away From the GOP?" The Huffington Post says Romney "Takes Republican Angst to New Heights." Again, liberal, but The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan sees the low turn out as the "Big Tune Out." She writes:
Mitt Romney's aides are making the classic mistake of thinking the voters want maturity, serenity and a jolly spirit. What they want is a man who knows what time it is ...George Will, of all people, finds the Republicans dangerously losing the military argument. This collection of DOOM hangs like storm-clouds over CPAC.
What's going on?
Two Things Are Going On
The first part of this is that conservatives had a bit of a bad week. There were good job numbers (whatever's really behind them) and the President's approval rating went up for the first time in a while. Wall Street has rebounded. The Daily Kos crows about it here. All of these things are transient (Obama's numbers will go back down when gas prices climb this summer or Greece defaults)--but they make for a particularly bad time to hold the pep-talk because ...
The second part is that the state of play says Santorum can't win. It isn't just that he doesn't have the money or infrastructure--although that's part of it--but that his battle-flag issue is social stuff in a time where it all better be about the economy. Obama is weak on the economy and Romney has--or should have--answers there (so goes the theory) and Santorum doesn't. Santorum wants to roll back DADT and go back into Iraq. These are not winning issues.
Powerline's John Hinderaker
Rick Santorum is a bright guy who has performed well in the debates, and he is hot, this week, in the Republican base. But he doesn’t have the chance of a snowball in Hell of being elected president. He couldn’t even get re-elected to the Senate in his home state of Pennsylvania in 2006. The 2012 election will be almost entirely about the economy, although national security is always relevant to a presidential contest. It would be suicidal for the GOP to nominate a candidate whose signature issues are gay marriage and abortion. At the end of the day, the party won’t be that dumb. But the fact that the party’s base is flirting with Santorum manifests a lack of seriousness that may prove fatal in November.I agree with that.
What Do I Think?
As I said above, I think that the specific issues are simply not trending in the right direction for the GOP but the thing about trends? It's that they change. It's a long way away right now. There are two bright spots to look forward to (kinda). The first is that CPAC attendees say Romney is acceptable. If this sounds like damning with faint praise, consider that at this point is is actually praising with faint damns. Romney is still the most likely to win, even if a brokered convention looms (I will also note that while I think the economy is the #1 issue I don't think the president has that much control over it so I'm not sure Santorum would be legitimately that much weaker there--but perception is everything).
The second bright spot is that, uh, something is going on with Ron Paul and the delegates. Paul is claiming that despite what the media and the, uh, votes (in the caucus states) say he's actually getting more delegates than other guys who actually won their specific counties. He's also recruiting--delegates or, more specifically, his evangelical supporters who will inject themselves into the delegate selection process becoming sort of, I think, a 5th-column of the process who will then select the actual delegates: Ron Paul delegates. NOTE that this isn't (just) the brokered-convention delegate maneuver where, in a standard convention the delegates have to vote for whoever they were sent by. But after that they can vote however they feel like it.
No. This is much, much worse. He's not waiting or hoping for a brokered convention. His strategy seems to be to simply hijack the delegate selection process before it gets to convention. Here's what he's doing:
What's important to note about these nonbinding caucuses in states like Iowa and Colorado is that they are part of a long, drawn-out process. The klieg lights and the cable teevee cameras have captured the sexier, drenched-in-pageantry opening act, but the real work is actually still to come, and when it does, it's not going to get covered in the same glittering way.
In Iowa, for example, what we all call the "Iowa caucuses" do nothing more than select delegates who then go to county conventions next month, where the delegates selected in January will be winnowed down into a group of delegates who will attend congressional district conventions and, finally, the state convention, where the 25 delegates who will eventually attend the Republican National Convention are selected.
By placing his people into the process--having them hang around after--and dress nicely (shaving, dressing up, and "no tats") they pass for normal. They get picked to be these sort of interim delegates ... and then, later down the line, after it is far, far too late? They choose the real delegates--the RON PAUL delegates. Would this work? Could this work? Consider this: No one can be sure Ron Paul didn't ACTUALLY WIN THE IOWA CAUCUS!
That's because Paul's massive organizational push in Iowa focused on both winning votes, and also on making sure that Paul supporters stuck around after the vote to make sure they were selected as county delegates — the first step towards being elected as a delegate to the Republican National Convention.
That's because Iowa's Republican caucuses are non-binding — they are technically just a straw poll, so once selected, delegates are free to vote for whichever presidential candidate they choose.So keep that in mind. That's a second bright spot the GOP faithful can look forward to during CPAC.
Oh wait, that's not a bright spot...