The Other McCain

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CPAC Day 2: Hecklers in the Big Tent

Posted on | February 11, 2011 | 37 Comments

Yesterday’s incident in which some Ron Paul supporters shouted “war criminal” at Donald Rumsfeld and his surprise guest Dick Cheney gets explained by Dave Weigel:

The ballroom for big events fills up many minutes in advance. In this instance, the people who wanted to hear Rand Paul speak at 3:45 had to arrive around 2:30, and stay there. If they did, they sat through a speech from Donald Trump (a surprise to attendees who weren’t checking the news frequently), and used every possible moment to yell “RON PAUL” at the Donald. When Trump responded to one of the heckles, and said that Paul “can’t win” the presidency, there were loud and righteous boos.
It takes a while to exit the ballroom. This means that hundreds of Paul fans — recognizably younger and sometimes beardier than the median CPAC attendee — are in the room or in lines as Donald Rumsfeld is introduced.

Total CPAC attendance is more than 10,000, among whom are hundreds of Paulistas — more than 10 percent of the total attendance, due not only to the fanaticism of Paul’s following but also because Campaign for Liberty has paid the way for his student supporters to attend the conference.

As might be expected, the Paulistas are at odds with most conservatives on foreign policy and this coincidence of scheduling that had many of the anti-war libertarians in their ballroom seats during the Rumsfeld recognition is just typical of the unexpected happenings at CPAC. And this unfortunate incident of inexcusable rudeness should help put the whole GOProud “controversy” in perspective. Are conflicts between anti-war libertarians and pro-war neocons really any different than the clash between gay Republicans and pro-family social conservatives?

Grant that these would seem to be what might be called irreconcilable differences, and yet if the broad coalition of the Right is to cohere — as it was powerfully coherent in 2010 — the disagreements must be tamped down. Courtesy and forebearance would seem to be requisite to the endeavor.

As I was explaining to friends at dinner last night, my main idea nowadays is that the GOP’s problems are not so much ideological as they are systemic and structural. The key battle is between the grassroots and the party elite — whether Republicans are to be a bottom-up or top-down party — and not between differing ideological factions of the rank-and-file. So as long as you’re fighting the elitist GOP Establishment, I’m on your side, without regard to any specific policy-oriented  litmus test.

My idea of an important policy debate: Should John Cornyn be tarred-and-feathered or would it be a sufficient gesture to burn him in effigy?


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