The results of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll were more or less not a surprise, with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky again winning the poll for the third year, as CPAC 2015 closed, Saturday afternoon, Feb. 28, 2015. Paul took 25.7 percent of the vote at the conference held in National Harbor, Maryland. The Paul family has long dominated the straw poll; Rand won in 2013 and 2014, while his father Ron Paul won in 2010 and 2011.
The audience treated Sen. Paul like a rock star at CPAC when he gave his address Friday afternoon, where the crowd chanted “President Paul, President Paul.” Paul used his address to announce the proposed tax cuts he will introduce in the Senate, stating, “In the coming weeks, I will propose the largest tax cut in American history… a tax cut that will leave more money in the paychecks of every worker in America. My tax plan will keep the IRS out of your life and out the way of every job creator in America. My plan will also cut spending and balance the budget in just five years.”
The crowd cheered as Paul roasted potential Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton saying, “It’s time for Hillary Clinton to permanently retire.” Paul received almost equal cheers from the crowd when he spoke of privacy where he asked the audience whom he called “lovers of liberty,” to “rise to the occasion.” Promising the audience, “We must preserve and protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Telling them, “You do have a right to privacy. Your rights are who you are, your rights are what you are, your rights are in your DNA — and the government can, quite frankly, get over it.” Paul took aim at the National Security Administration’s (NSA) surveillance programs, “I say that the phone records of law-abiding citizens are none of their damn business. From within, our freedom is threatened by debt and by a government that regulates everything that moves.”
Paul equally questioned the country’s present foreign policy, preferring a peace through strength position, “At home, conservatives understand that the government is the problem, not the solution. But as conservatives, we should not succumb to the notion that government inept at home will somehow become successful abroad, that a government that can’t even deliver the mail will somehow be able to create nations abroad. Without question, we must be strong. Without question, we must defend ourselves. I envision an America with a national defense unparalleled, undefeatable and unencumbered by nation building.” Practically bringing down the house with cheers, Paul ended his speech asking the crowd “Will you fight for freedom? Will you vote for freedom?” It is no surprise by the reactions to his speech he won the poll, the only surprise was that he did not win by more.
There was a surprise second place finish; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who received 21.4 percent of the vote. Walker made a splash at the convention, with speech outlining his potential policies. Walker explained that he would take on terrorist group ISIS and “do everything in their power to ensure the threat from radical Islamic terrorists will not come to American soil.” Walker claimed the country needs a “leader with confidence.” He would fit the job description, because of his fearless approach taking on trade unions in his state, “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.” By the end of his speech, the cheering crowd chanted, “Run, Scott, Run” to which he replied, “I’ve run three time in the last four years, so I’m getting pretty used to it.” The press and the party consider Walker at this point a serious contender, but with the game so early on, frontrunners change often.
Following Walker in the straw poll was Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who had 11.5 percent, slightly ahead of retired neurosurgeon, Ben Carson who has 11.4 percent. Cruz’s speech on Thursday was another “fiery” well-received moment at CPAC, criticizing President Barack Obama, Hillary and Bill Clinton and every one of his potential Republican opponents. Attacking Obama who he called a “lawless imperator” he stated, “Washington wants Obamacare, the people want liberty. Don’t believe President Obama when he says when you like your Internet, you get to keep your Internet.”
Jabbing Hillary Clinton, Cruz referred to foreign government donations to the Clinton Foundation, “We could have had Hillary here, but we couldn’t find a foreign nation to foot the bill.” Cruz later associated Hillary with establishment “Washington, and reminded the audience why nobody needs Bill Clinton back in the White House because of his “youth outreach,” his sex scandal and affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. Cruz also questioning the conservative credentials of all his potential opponents, Cruz challenged, “Demand action, not talk. If a candidate tells you that they oppose Obamacare, fantastic! (But) when have you stood up and fought against it? If a candidate says they oppose Obama’s illegal executive amnesty, terrific. When have you stood up and fought against it?
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, often considered as the Republican front-runner, felt some stinging rejection for his moderate views, still he placed fifth with 8.3 percent, good considering the boos he received as he was introduced to address the conference on Friday, and during some key points of disagreements throughout his responses. CNN thinks that position he placed in the poll shows that conservatives are open to such a moderate and establishment party candidate. Bush told those objecting to him “I want to be your second choice if I decide to go beyond this,” and “I hope that I’ll see you on the trail.” Conservatives disagree with his views on immigration and education; Bush believes in a “path to legal status” for illegal immigrants supports Common Core education standards, he used his question and answer period at CPAC on Friday to defend his positions. They can now add his refusal to sign Grover Norquist’s no-new-taxes pledge, which he announced on Saturday, just before the straw poll.
Speaking on immigration, Bush addressed those “angry” at his position but he thinks “Those that want to come here to work to invest in their dreams in this country to create opportunities for all of us. And that’s what we need to get to and so … the plan also includes a path to legal status.” Addressing Common Core standards, he said, “My belief is that our standards have to be high enough where a student going through our system is college- or career-ready, and that’s not what’s happening right now.” When called a moderate Bush told the moderator, Fox News host Sean Hannity that “I would describe myself as a practicing, reform-minded, conservative.” Bush also again separated himself from the presidencies of his father George H. W. Bush (1989-1993) and brother George W. Bush (2001-09) stating, “I have to show that I care about people about their future. It can’t be about the past, it can’t be about my mom and dad and brother who I love. I love them all. It has to be about the ideas that I believe in to move our country forward.”
As for the remainder, here is the full result list:
25.7 Sen. Rand Paul
21.4 Gov. Scott Walker
11.5 Sen. Ted Cruz
11.4 Dr. Ben Carson
8.3 Former Gov. Jeb Bush
4.3 Former Sen. Rick Santorum
3.7 Sen. Marco Rubio
3.5 Donald Trump
3.0 Carly Fiorina
2.8 Gov. Chris Christie
1.1 Former Gov. Rick Perry
0.9 Gov. Bobby Jindal
0.8 Former Gov. Sarah Palin
0.3 Former Gov. Mike Huckabee
0.3 Former Ambassador John Bolton
0.1 Sen. Lindsey Graham
0.1 Former Gov. George Pataki
This year’s straw poll is significant since it is the last one before the 2016 presidential campaign season goes in full swing. Very few of the CPAC winners however, ever go on to become the Republican presidential nominee, only incidence recently was in 2012 when Mitt Romney won CPAC and then became the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. CPAC mostly represents the views of conservative and libertarian leaning. This year they had one of their largest voter turnouts with over 3,000 conference participants voting and the voters were overwhelmingly female with 63 percent, and 47 percent were young, under 25.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.