By MAXWELL REINHARDT
Once a year, thousands of committed conservatives from across the country converge in Washington, D.C. to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). This year, I had the privilege to attend this four-day political Super Bowl.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into Wardman Park Hotel was the line of battle-ready presidential campaign staffers. Each staffer was holding their red, white and blue campaign signs, and handing out stickers trying to make it look like their candidate was the coolest kid at the convention. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum had a very strong presence at this year’s CPAC. He utilized last week’s primary victories in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado to gain momentum in the coveted CPAC presidential straw poll.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the straw poll with 38 percent of the vote. Santorum came in second with 31 percent.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich came in third with 15 percent of the vote.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul, whose fervent supporters helped him win the straw poll in 2010 and 2011, were barely visible at this CPAC. This year, he received 12 percent of the vote.
But beyond presidential candidates and straw polls, CPAC is a gathering of the “who’s-who” among conservatives: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, media mogul Andrew Breitbart, CNN’s Dana Loesch, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist and many more.
But the star of the show was the keynote speaker, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. She took center stage to deliver a message of unity to the conservative movement, “The Left may smear our records or attack our families [but] we can’t let the left divide the next campaign. We must stand together as conservatives. For the sake of our country, we must stand united, no matter who our nominee is.”
Palin’s speech was briefly interrupted when a few Occupy D.C. agitators broke into the ballroom and started shouting “We are the 99 percent!” In response, the crowd, myself included, rose up in spiritual unity and drowned out their divisive class warfare propaganda, and chanted a classic creed of American patriotism, “USA! USA! USA!”
Members of the press, secluded from the crowd atop a balcony on the second floor, rushed to the railing and looked at this display of total harmony: fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, foreign policy hawks and libertarians all united in their disgust at this shameless, petulant plea for attention.
Occupy D.C. played a visible role throughout the weekend. On Friday night, they lined the sidewalks, unenthusiastically holding signs and chanting banal slogans. The “Occupiers” had apparently been paid $60 each to stand outside and protest.
Despite their dormancy, some of the “Occupiers” did become violent. Several attendees were assaulted and harassed by the protestors.
I made it through the entire weekend without getting into one shouting match with an “Occupier.”
Overall, CPAC 2012 gave me quintessential insight into the state of the conservative movement. The American Right wants to be united; we want a candidate who represents our values, a candidate that can beat President Obama, and, most importantly, we want an excellent delivery system for the conservative message. We want another Ronald Reagan, but unfortunately, Ronald Reagans do not come along very often.