From all over America, activists and sympathizers of the Grand Old Party arrived at National Harbor, at the gates of Washington, to attend the traditional Conservative Political Action Conference. For the third consecutive year, Rand Paul, the Republican senator with ties to the anti-tax tea party movement, showed himself to be the most popular candidate, this year taking 25.7 percent of the vote at the “straw poll.” Jeb Bush, ex-governor of Florida, only came in fifth with 8.7 percent. Paul marginally beat Gov. of Wisconsin Scott Walker, who took 21.4 percent of the vote. Third was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, with 11.5 percent. The results have only symbolic value, if only because of the fact that in the last 20 rounds for which records exist, just three winners of the straw poll were later nominated as the Republican candidate in the race for the White House: Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.
The annual CPAC event, sponsored by think tanks, conservative websites and very influential interest groups such as the National Rifle Association, is an extremely important showcase for those who aspire to be a presidential candidate. It also helps to understand the mood of the support base, by discovering which topics are drawing the most support and which the least. In this sense, this year’s event didn’t disappoint. What’s more, this year there was an important development. Instead of the traditional speeches, the candidates were called upon to respond to a huge amount of questions from the public, making the session more animated and with plenty of stimuli.
What have the Republican delegates talked about in the past few days, gathered together on the banks of the Potomac? Some said that the Republicans should choose a true believer; others want a candidate who would immediately work to repeal the health care reform that Obama wants, or would reduce the size of the federal government and start a ruthless war against the Islamic State. Others agree on the need for a candidate who can win over the moderates by being less rigid on hot topics such as immigration, education and foreign policy.
Putting aside his victory in the poll, Scott Walker made the news because he drew a parallel between his 2011 fight against the labor unions in the public sector and the challenge that the United States is facing in the fight against the Islamic State group. Some commentators shook their heads at such a bold juxtaposition. Then from Walker’s staff came a clarification: The governor meant to express the concept that “when faced with adversity, he chooses strength and leadership.”
Jeb Bush, Florida’s ex-governor, enjoys a wide support base, but is unpopular among some conservatives due to his stance on immigration and on a common basic education standard. Some applauded his call for a “reform” of conservatism, though others won’t stop branding him a RINO — Republican In Name Only. “He should be a Democrat,” said Christmas Simon from California.
One thing is certain: During the last day of the event, the name Bush even provoked some boos. And we must keep in mind, too, his fifth place in the opinion poll, with less than 10 percent of the vote. In any case, Bush has made it known that he will not sign any commitment to freezing taxes, as the hardline wing of the party has asked him to do. Kirsty Campbell, spokesperson for the ex-governor of Florida from 1999-2007, announced this. "If Gov. Bush decides to move forward, he will not sign any pledges circulated by lobbying groups,” said Campbell, reminding us that “his record on tax cuts is clear. He didn't raise taxes.”
This caution is very probably linked to what happened to his father, who in 1990 promised not to increase taxes with the famous phrase, “Read my lips: No new taxes” — a commitment that he then disregarded, eventually being massacred — in media terms — by Clinton’s electoral campaign, which obsessively replayed the video to demonstrate the president’s lack of consistency.