A summary of the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) highlights the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates. Several expected frontrunners as well as former presidential candidates were on hand and gave speeches at the annual gathering of conservative activists. Some of the noted speakers included Texas Governor Rick Perry, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Senator Rick Santorum, and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. But as has been the case for much of the past decade, it was a politician named Paul that attracted the most support at the convention.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul followed in his father’s footsteps, winning CPAC’s unofficial straw poll for the second consecutive year. His father Ron Paul, formerly a Congressman from Texas, had also won two CPAC straw polls during his time in the national spotlight earlier this decade. Considered to be somewhat more refined and respectable than his father, Rand Paul has assumed command of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, a group that has found itself with a larger and stronger voice at gatherings such as CPAC.
Paul’s dominating performance at CPAC may not guarantee that he will be the Republican candidate for president in 2016, but it does demonstrate the influence of his ideology within the Republican Party. Many political observers have commented on the “infighting” within the party between so-called “establishment” politicians such as Arizona Senator John McCain and Speaker of the House John Boehner, and the “new blood” represented by outspoken politicians like Paul and Ted Cruz. These experts question whether a libertarian such as Paul can appeal to a broad enough base to win a national election, regardless of his popularity with his libertarian supporters. A summary of the 2014 CPAC conference highlights other potential Republican presidential candidates for 2016.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was present at this year’s conference, after not having been invited to the festivities last year. Until recently, Christie was seen as one of the most likely candidates for the Republican nomination in 2016. However, a series of scandals unfolding in his native New Jersey have placed his political future in jeopardy. He still remains an attractive potential candidate due to his “no nonsense” approach to policy and his blunt speaking style. He also can claim the ability to work side by side with Democrats as he has had to do in heavily Democratic New Jersey, but such credentials were not highlighted at CPAC. Instead Christie attempted to reinforce his conservative beliefs and reassure the attendees that he would govern from the right and not compromise those beliefs to appease Democrats.
Senator Ted Cruz drew attention for criticizing several recent Republican presidential candidates. He argued that the party fails to stand for anything on the national level and has nominated candidates that did not represent conservative or Republican ideals. He specifically directed his criticism at former Senator Bob Dole, John McCain, and 2012 candidate Mitt Romney. Cruz implied that none of these candidates were sufficiently forceful in stating or promoting a conservative agenda and that was a major reason the Republican Party lost each of the elections they were involved in. McCain took his senate colleague to task, telling Cruz that while he and Romney could handle the criticism, his statements about Bob Dole were out of line. Cruz replied that he did not intend to disparage the former senator, but he stood by his assertion about the need for Republicans to stand by their conservative values.
It is too early to say definitively what the impact of the 2014 CPAC conference will be on the Republican field for the 2016 election, but there were some significant developments at the conference. It was a continuation of the “Paul Dynasty” as Senator Rand Paul once again dominated the conference and won his second consecutive straw poll. It saw the attempted “rehabilitation” of Chris Christie as he tries to recover from scandals and establish his conservative credentials. And it saw Ted Cruz take the party to task for nominating what he considered to be “weak” candidates that failed to stand for conservative principles. Overall a summary of CPAC highlights the potential of the Republican candidates for president in 2016.
By Christopher V. Spencer