I met New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson at the Cato Institute in July and gave him my card. His campaign contacted me and offered me admission to CPAC for $15. I wouldn't have been interested except I remembered that CPAC chose Students for Liberty over Bob Jones University last year, so I knew that you didn't have to be a social conservative. This year, the Family Research Council, the Concerned Women of America, the American Principles Project, and Sen. Jim DeMint all declined to attend because the gay organization Go-Proud was there.
Apparently, that wasn't the case just 3 years ago - in 2008 or before, you would have found lots of participants gung-ho for the Iraq War. Even last year, Ron Paul only filled the smaller rooms. Admittedly, 50% of the audience were college students. Nonetheless, I imagine there were a lot of students in 2008 as well.
This year, Ron Paul was filling the largest halls. Republican C-man Paul Ryan started his speech with "How many of you like Ron Paul? How many of you like Rand Paul? How many of you like Paul Ryan"? Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are not safe at CPAC anymore - someone yelled "war criminal" when
Rumsfeld appeared. If they're not safe at CPAC, where are they safe? The Young Americans For Freedom president was booed for calling Ron Paul supporters "nuts," as was Donald Trump for saying his candidacy was unrealistic. As it happened YAF had tons of leftover cake, which the presidents served himself. Some students started taking the silverware and cutting it themselves, but not trusting the spontaneous order, the president said "I'll handle that" and students (including me) walked away.
On Thursday night, both Rand and Ron Paul gave a talk. The talk was preceded by a 20 minute humorous cartoon about the history of central banking and the Fed. The huge audience cheered when Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton. The movie ends with the protagonist talking to Ben Bernanke in Spartan clothing and
Bernanke attempt to buy the protagonist's cooperation. The protagonist then yells "THIS IS AMERICA!" and kicks Bernanke down the hole. At many times people got up and yelled either "End the Fed" or "Run Ron Run."
Overall, I found the experience dull. I went Thursday and didn't go back Friday or Saturday (except for evening festivities) for the price of my time. Most of the speeches were "pander...stand up and clap...pander...stand up and clap...pander...conclusion." Most of the participants avoided deep thoughts as well, seeming to view political candidates as saviors instead of recognizing the need for cultural change or realizing that American values were not yet consistent with pure capitalism.
I voted for Gary Johnson and Mitch Daniels in the straw poll. Ron Paul had his shot in 2008, and he's now too old at 75. But Paul nonetheless trounced Johnson - over 30% compared with Johnson's third place finish of 6%.
I went to a bar both Thursday and Saturday night, and was mostly bored at both. The bar Adams Mill was packed like a sardine can and you had to charge your way to the bar. I left after 20 minutes. Saturday night was "Reaganpalooza," and was slightly less packed and less crowded. I mainly talked to my UCLA colleague Emily, who was at CPAC for field research. I also heard about this incredible story (http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/blog/jeff-fecke/straight-flowing-boat-deep-blue-sea) about James O'Keefe - the ACORN pimp - attempting to seduce a reporter with dildos and Viagra on a boat, but the reporter was warned by his assistant, an acquaintance of mine.