ONE of the loudest cheers that greeted any speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a three-day shindig for the Republican Right that ended on March 8th, came when Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky warned the crowd that if they owned a mobile telephone they were under government surveillance. As the hall began to roar, Mr Paul thundered over the din: “I believe what you do on your cell phone is none of their damn business.”
Mr Paul’s oratory was well rewarded. As CPAC ended, he easily won a straw poll of putative 2016 presidential challengers, scooping nearly a third of all votes cast by CPAC attendees, far ahead of any rival (second place went to his fellow first-term senator and Tea Party darling, Ted Cruz of Texas).
It is traditional for journalists to be a bit sniffy about CPAC straw polls, and with reason. True, the gathering lures an all-star line-up of Republicans, who are granted just a few minutes each for some high-intensity pandering. (In one of CPAC’s more startling moments, Mitch McConnell, a Washington grandee and the Republican leader in the Senate, marched on stage waving a large rifle above his head).
But CPAC attracts a very specific slice of the conservative movement, and its straw polls have a woeful record of predicting actual presidential nominees. Half the voters in this year’s effort were aged...Continue reading