The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington has come and gone. When I first participated in the revival of CPAC conferences with Fritz Rench in 1973 there were about 300 participants. This year the American Conservative Union (ACU), which sponsors the event, reported some 1,700 paid registrants. When all participants, including non-paying students, reporters, speakers and merchants were clocked in, the ACU says some 6,500 folks graced their doors. That is extraordinary. It shows that conservatives were looking for direction. I'm not sure that they received it.
As for me, I spent the whole time (when I wasn't on a panel) interviewed by reporters galore who wanted me to explain why Rudolph W. (Rudy) Giuliani was popular at this bastion of conservatism when other candidates with a far better record of conservatism were not chosen. (Giuliani placed second in the CPAC straw poll). My answer was this, recognizing it was off the cuff and imperfect. I told the reporters those grassroots folks (the kind who come to CPAC and run for delegate in their State) are looking to a candidate who can defeat Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY).
They reject Senator John S. McCain, III (R-AZ) because the perception is that he hates religious conservatives. But those who don't care about that have problems with him because they disapprove of McCain - Feingold, the so-called campaign reform act which greatly hinders conservatives from getting out their message. I have had key conservatives tell me "I can never vote for him, period."
Then these conservative activists look at former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. They tell me he is slick. They further tell me that they cannot believe his answers as to why he now is pro-life. (He had been pro-abortion until 2003 when he began to think of a Presidential race.) He claimed that his seeing an ultrasound made him believe that life begins at conception.
The activists looked at the second-tier candidates who were asked to speak. They had no organization to push delegates toward the straw poll as did the front runners. So what the attendees saw is what they got. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich was the sentimental favorite. He still is more interesting and creative than his rivals. The problem for his supporters is that he has declared that if no other conservative has caught on by September or October of this year he will determine if he will run. In politics, that is an eternity.