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Why Romney won CPAC straw poll

Posted By Ellen Ratner On 02/12/2012 @ 4:40 pm In Commentary | No Comments

The Conservative Political Action Committee, or CPAC, is the annual gathering of conservatives from around the country to hear speeches, visit booths on topics they are interested in and exchange ideas with fellow patriots and compatriots all over the country. There are often people dressed up as Minutemen, as well as other costumes such as candidate look a likes. It is always a festive atmosphere, and conservative voters exchange thoughts.

Like the Take Back the American Dream conference on the liberal side of politics, it is a few days of workshops and speeches. Even politicians from the respective parties who do not agree with the majority of the attendees usually come and speak. At CPAC this year, Speaker John Boehner spoke, even though he has been put through the ringer by many members of Congress who think he is way too establishment. The tea-party adherents on Capitol Hill have been the bane of Speaker Boehner; they want a balanced budget and don’t like to vote for increasing the debt ceiling. On the left side of the aisle, audiences have not always been overly excited to hear from the Democrat leadership at the Take Back conference, either. It is not infrequent that people talk about those politicians at both conferences as “selling out.”

What is surprising is how fast these groups, both conservative and liberal, come around when it is down to the wire in terms of electing who they want in the White House. Suddenly, there is often amnesia for the past or for views that run contrary to what the activist/voter wants.

This “amnesia” was present during this last weekend. Time and time again, we had people stop by our broadcast space at CPAC’s radio row saying that their candidate was Rick Santorum or even former speaker Gingrich. Except for Gov. Romney’s surrogates, we never heard an enthusiastic “Romney’s my guy” from anyone. They dubbed him Romney the Inevitable, but he did not generate much excitement.

He has not generated much excitement at other CPAC meetings, either. Until this year, his candidacy had encountered some direct hostility. There was a dolphin giving interviews as Romney the “Flipper,” and several people gave out paper-thin plastic flip-flops with various flip-flopping positions written on them. The message was clear to attendees: Romney flips his positions.

I don’t think there is anyone, save the candidates Speaker Gingrich and Sen. Santorum and their staff members, who think either of those two have a chance. The right wing, middle wing and the more liberal wing of the Republican Party all think, unless there is a brokered convention, Romney will be the GOP nominee.

Why, then did Gov. Romney win the straw poll at CPAC this year?

The answer lies in basic human psychology. People want to be associated with a winner and not a loser. Romney has the money and the party organization. He is on the ballot in all 50 states and has the finances to take the primary contest until June.

People want to be able to go home having voted for the winner and say they helped pick the guy that is going to be representative of their political views and ideas. This is true in this election even if Romney doesn’t really represent those ideas.

The CPAC attendees who voted in the straw poll also want to get rid of President Obama so urgently that they will do anything they think will support their cause.

The straw poll support includes looking at Romney and deciding he has the demeanor and presence of a leader. Despite the flip-flops that directly go against their value system, they are willing to vote for him.

This is politics, and this is America. It should not surprise anyone that people will line up behind a flawed candidate to beat the other guy, President Obama. It is why Obama, despite the poor economy and a deficit that has reached scary numbers, will most likely win in November. It is all about the voter in the middle and who voters want to invite in their living rooms in the next four years. I am taking bets that the invitation is not going to be going to Gov. Romney.


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