So This Was CPAC 2010

The 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference is over. The dozens of stalls in the exhibition room at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel have been broken down, finally, by volunteers and event staff. Leaflets about small government and illegal immigration are littered casually; tables and equipment are being wheeled out.

Glenn Beck has whooped everyone into a light, satisfied frenzy--like the lazy excitement of Thanksgiving football--with his free-form lecturing on the perils of progressivism, the meaning of conservatism, how Americans should rely on themselves, like Beck after he bottomed out as an alcoholic.

The good times have rolled for three days, but it had to end sometime. So what's the take-away from this event? Does it tell us anything we didn't already know?

Not really. The vibe at CPAC was upbeat; the attendees obviously felt good about where the conservative movement is headed, like they're poised to do something big in 2010 and 2012--like the momentum is on their side. The bar on Saturday afternoon was filled with generally excited people throwing back some drinks before the closing events.

It showed in the exuberance of the crowd and the optimism of the speakers--the buzz of everyone at the event--partly because a lot of the people here were young, partly because the momentum really is on their side.

The straw poll showed it, too: a third of the 2,395 voters said they think Republicans will take back their congressional majorities in 2010; over 20 percent said the GOP would be within striking distance of taking the majority--meaning over half of the CPAC attendants, by this poll, think Republicans have a legitimate shot at taking back Congress in 2010.

Speaking of the straw poll, Ron Paul won it. Seriously. Ron Paul crushed--absolutely crushed--all the other GOP big shots on the list except for Mitt Romney, who took a close second. Romney has a history of doing GOTV on big straw polls, but apparently he didn't get an operation in gear to best Paul.

Paul's victory said something about the event, and the type of people who attended it. CPAC was an exposition of ideology and conservative glee, but not necessarily political prowess. Ron Paul will probably not be president in 2012; he seems to have no relationship with the tea partiers; he has ceded his conservative stardom to the likes of Sarah Palin.

So it's questionable how much CPAC has to do with electoral reality--and even the realities of the conservative movement's preferences.

There was something for everyone here: groups, speakers, panels and seminars on guns, immigration, marriage and family, taxes, spending--everything. The John Birch Society--which still exists--was here with a stall. Newt Gingrich's group, American Solutions, paid two guys to walk around in Eagle and Whale costumes (the whale was an "Obama Fail Whale"), taking pictures with people.

CPAC had many splendors, and it was both schizophrenic and narrow in its scope: schizophrenic in that it covered so much ground, narrow in that it was attended mostly by young people, college kids, and sponsored attendees.

It was a good pump-up for the conservatives who came, but it's questionable how much it actually tells us about the future of the movement, or where the right is headed in 2010 and beyond.