The success of CPAC last week was enough to warm the heart of even the most cynical conservative. It was an incredibly festive, exhilarating atmosphere – the kind that tempts one to believe there’s still hope for America. The aura of the crowd was a reminder that conservatives, especially libertarian-centered conservatives, tend to be friendly, helpful and polite.

By contrast, on those few occasions when I’ve attended far-left gatherings, such as the One Nation Working Together event in front of the Lincoln Memorial, I’ve found that people generally tend to be unfriendly, rude and angry – which is not surprising, since the focus of such events always seems to be “down with the rich, up with the poor.” It’s a worn-out theme that is based on ignorance and envy.

Since that One Nation Working Together event, there’s been a sense of urgency for progressives. They know that if they lose control of the Senate, and possibly the presidency, in 2012, their dismissive attitude toward the Constitution will be challenged at every turn. So, from their point of view, it’s now or never if America is to be transformed into a collectivist paradise.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that 30 percent or so of the population actually wants an America where wealth is evenly distributed, and probably at least one-third of that group longs for Bolshevik-style communism. They genuinely believe that capitalism is an evil that must be destroyed.

By contrast, another 40 percent or so of the population believes in small, constitutionally constrained government, self-regulation through marketplace forces, just enough taxes to allow government to perform its constitutional duties, and individual freedom. These are the tea-party people … the CPAC people … the everyday Americans who place a higher premium on liberty than all other objectives.

But there is also another 30 percent or so of the population that consists of people in the middle who simply float back and forth between elections and base their votes on charm, verbal skills, physical appearance and meaningless political rhetoric. They feel warm and fuzzy all over whenever they hear politicians mouth such platitudes as “reach across the aisle,” “compromise” and “come together as a nation.”

Which brings me back to CPAC. The one downer for me was that at least three of the best conservative prospects for president – Jim DeMint, Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie – did not attend the conference and have made it clear that they do not intend to run in 2012. That left two speakers who towered above the field – Ron Paul and Allen West.

Paul won the straw poll, which once again affirmed that more and more conservatives are coming to agree with Ronald Reagan’s assessment that “the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” Paul has been the most honest and consistent politician in Washington for three decades, and his main speech at CPAC had about half the crowd on their feet cheering wildly. But the other half sat on their hands whenever he took aim at America’s misguided foreign military adventures.

But the biggest surprise at CPAC was the keynote closing speaker, Allen West, newly elected congressman from Florida. West’s speech brought the house down, reminding me of Barack Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. No question about it, a star was born at CPAC on Feb. 12.

While listening to West’s speech (and recently interviewing him for the Liberty Education Interview Series), it occurred to me that he is so sound, so bright, so tough, so pro-American that it’s a shame he won’t be running for president in 2012. In a head-to-head debate, West would have Obama backpedaling nonstop.

It’s a fantasy debate that would have the aura of a principal scolding a naughty student. West is a man’s man; Obama is a flower child in a suit, with his mind still naively fascinated by the idea of a classless society. I will predict right here and now that if there is a presidential election in 2016, West will win if he decides to run.

But my focus is on today. If you believe the polls, Republicans, whose penchant for continually repeating the same mistakes is a never-ending source of wonderment, appear determined to run the wrong candidate again. The two front-runners continue to be Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Might just as well throw in John McCain to round out the field.

Romney may be a nice guy and a top-notch business executive, but when it comes to politics, he’s business as usual. Remember, this is a man who beat Barack Obama to government-run health care! In addition, he never met a flip he didn’t flop.

Huckabee, as I have often stated, is everything that is wrong with politics in general. He’s made his disdain for libertarians – and, by extension, Ronald Reagan – clear by letting it be known that he doesn’t attend CPAC because he believes “CPAC has become increasingly more libertarian and less Republican over the last years.”

I have repeatedly called Huckabee the most dangerous man in America, not because he’s a bad person with bad intentions – he isn’t – but because 1) he has the wit and glibness to beat Obama and, 2) once in office, he has the charm to anesthetize the public while moving America gently toward ever larger doses of socialism. It’s remarkable how the man has mesmerized so many Americans into ignoring his progressive words and actions.

In 2016, the Republican primary field will be overflowing with dynamic, libertarian-centered conservative candidates, any one of whom would easily be able to beat the next socialist offered up by the Democratic Party.

Except for one problem: 2016 may not matter if the Republicans don’t win in 2012. Republican voters had better think long and hard about that before casting their primary ballots for the party’s next presidential candidate. In particular, they would be wise to read and listen to what Ron Paul actually says as opposed to what his detractors write and say about him.

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