This item is cross-posted from ProgressiveFix.
The annual Conservative Political Action Committee conclave in Washington got underway yesterday, and it’s not surprising there’s a tone of excitement bordering on triumphalism as the participants celebrate both the Democratic Party’s political troubles and the rightward lurch of the GOP. Much of the press coverage of the event will revolve around this weekend’s traditional straw poll of attendees on their preferences for the 2012 presidential nomination (which usually favor potential candidates who show up to speak at CPAC; this year it’s Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum, but not Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee).
But underneath the surface is a complex dance between old-school conservatives who served in or lionized the Bush-Cheney administration, and a newer breed that purports to despise the Bushies as sellouts. The Washington Independent’s Dave Weigel is covering CPAC will a keen eye on that dance, dramatized by the surprise appearance of Dick Cheney and a few nostalgic references from the podium to Bush’s superiority to Obama:
Conservatives who winced at the Bush-Cheney record were out in force, but serious disagreement with the back-to-Bush conservatives was hard to find. Two years ago, Ron Paul’s presidential campaign was lacking a booth in the CPAC exhibit hall until Mitt Romney dramatically quit the presidential race and opened up space for their back-to-1776 brochures. This year, Paul’s Campaign for Liberty occupied a larger section of the exhibit hall than any group except the NRA, with reams of fliers, copies of Young American Revolution magazine (with an illustration of Paul taking the presidential oath on the cover)….
The once-extreme obsessions of Paul’s fans bled into the rest of the convention. They were present in speeches from mainstream figures like Romney, and they were present in lectures that filled large rooms to overflowing. Tom Woods, the author of “The Politically Incorrect History of the United States” and a sometime ghostwriter for Paul, spoke to a packed room on the subject of nullifying federal laws.
In most respects, it’s probably safe to say that the oldsters have quickly moved towards the Ron Paul revolutionaries and some of the hard-core Christian Right cultural warriors, not to mention the Tea Party Movement which features elements of both. After all, the one thing that most unites all of them, other than hatred of Obama, is retroactive opposition to TARP and the other “bailout” policies initiated by Bush (with Bush’s Medicare Rx drug entitlement ranking a close second). Cheney complicates the picture, since his ferocious national security and civil liberties stances remain very popular with many of the conservatives who now denounce Bush administration domestic policies (though not with the Paulists, of course).
Still, there are plenty of ideological tensions on the contemporary Right, even if they tend to be muted at gloat-and-attack-fests like CPAC. You have to wonder how many of the attendees who cheered Mitt Romney’s attacks on Obama have really forgiven him for championing a Massachusetts health plan that’s eerily similar to what they all savage as “ObamaCare.”
Ideological fault lines tend to get exposed and widened in presidential nominating contests. No matter who wins the straw poll this weekend, it’s likely that the 2012 battle for the GOP nomination will show that the post-Bush pirouette-to-the-right of the Republican Party and the conservative movement wasn’t as elegant as it looks at CPAC.