This year’s Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) meeting shows a conservative movement in transition — or, at least, that’s what they want you to see. True: faux intellectual/full-blooded libertarian Ron Paul displaced Mitt Romney as the victor of the annual “straw poll”, perhaps signaling a move to “real” small government conservatism in this low-stakes, poorly-predictive measurement of an angry base. But for his victory, he drew boos, which conference organizers eagerly highlighted to watching media, as if to suggest this was a hiccup, and an undesired one at that. Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee took offense at even this smattering of libertarianism —
— and Politico struggled to characterize “grassroots” groups like RedState as voices of a new, populist, economics-centered conservatism, despite the site’s firm grounding in homophobia, old-style paleoconservative hate, anti-feminism, and Beck-style senseless vitriol.
If CPAC is a vision of conservatism’s next year, I humbly suggest that we have little to fear, at least for now. By all accounts, attempts to fuse tea party “populism” with big-government conservatism have failed, or are in the process of failing. Republicans will be able to field a sizable protest vote in near-term elections, but an angry base has never been enough to rebuild a national majority. We can’t get complacent, but we needn’t run scared, either.