The importance of minimizing Paul’s win united conservative activists like almost nothing else that came from the three-day conference. Even Brad Dayspring — who, as a spokesman for GOP whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), counts on Paul for “no” votes — fired off two tweets dismissing the result. But the 2,395 ballots cast were a CPAC record, up from the 1,757 cast in 2009, when Mitt Romney scored his third conservative win. And moments after the Paul results were booed, the crowd gave a roaring ovation to radio and Fox News host Glenn Beck, who rewarded it with a 56-minute lecture on “progressivism’s” war on American values with historical lessons — the evil of the Federal Reserve, the destructiveness of Woodrow Wilson, the folly of “spreading democracy” — that had featured prominently in Paul’s speech, too.Even more than the Tea Party crowd, the Paulites are the real wild card going into 2010. They have an intense distrust of government no matter who is in charge of it, Democrat or Republican, and more than anyone else, they believe that conservatives lost because they wasted too much time on social conservatism and not nearly enough on the fiscal stuff.
For as little attention as it got — for the first time in anyone’s memory, the news cycle-driving Drudge Report did not even run with the news until the next day — Paul’s victory in an unscientific straw poll revealed plenty about the state of conservatism. Narrowly, it revealed that Paul’s quixotic 2008 bid for president created a significant and growing movement of libertarian-minded teens and twentysomethings whose role in the conservative coalition will become more clear outside of CPAC. More broadly, it provided a look at the ideological hardening going on within the conservative movement as it girds for the 2010 elections. According to some polls, the Republican Party is on track to recover control of Congress and have a voice again in how America is governed. At CPAC, there was far less attention on how the party would govern America than on the need to disavow its past, popular embraces of “big government” — and on the need to embrace a hardcore libertarian philosophy that views environmentalism and the progressive movement as fatal threats to freedom.
Paul’s youthful crusade of hopeful libertarians — its size and its enthusiasm — was one of the real surprises of the conference. Paul-inspired or affiliated groups occupied five booths in the event’s exhibit hall; the Campaign for Liberty (the organization he launched after folding his 2008 presidential bid), Young Americans for Liberty (the student group launched at the same time), Students for Liberty, the Ladies of Liberty Alliance, and the Future of Freedom Foundation. Libertarian CPAC attendees packed room after room for lectures by the likes of Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano and likely 2012 presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico. They passed out a documentary about the Paul campaign, “For Liberty,” and copies of “Young American Revolution,” a magazine for college students with contributions ranging from an essay on economics by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) to a Wake Forest University student’s tipsheet on how she organized a blockbuster speech by Paul on her campus.
The reality is the Paulites are even more dangerous. These guys are quite serious about dismantling the safety net in order to save themselves.