At last year's CPAC, at a time when conservatives and the Republican Party hadn't enjoyed a good news cycle in what seemed like forever, Rush Limbaugh was the big story. He gave the closing address, and ran well over his allotted time to rally conservatives at a time when they needed a major boost.
Fast forward to CPAC 2010, following a year during which we witnessed everything from angry town halls to the Tea Party rallies to Scott Brown's Massachusetts victory, and now Glenn Beck is the keynoter. That fact alone says a lot about what has happened to the conservative movement in a mere 12 months. (CPAC and conservatives should be careful: On their present trajectory, Orly Taitz is the logical choice to give the 2011 keynoter.)
But the most revealing result from CPAC 2010, one that didn't surprise me but ought to wake up national political reporters, is this one: Ron Paul won this year's CPAC straw poll with 31 percent. Next best was Mitt Romney with 22 percent. Amazingly, Paul's support was more than that for Sarah Palin (7 percent), Tim Pawlenty (6), Mike Pence (5), Newt Gingrich (4), Mike Huckabee (4), Mitch Daniels (2), and Rick Santorum (2) combined. Yes, that's right--combined. By compare, just a year ago, Paul tied with Palin for third at 13 percent, with Romney winning and Bobby Jindal (who dat?) second at 14 percent.
Five months ago in this space, I speculated that this new conservative movement is fueled to a significant degree by a lot of ginned up former Ron Paul supporters. I mentioned and quoted at length from Dana Goldstein's fanstastic reporting that connected the Tea Party movement to residual Ron Paulites. When is the national media going to finally make these connections?
Instead, the kooky, historically revisionist, apocalyptic ideas of Glenn Beck and Ron Paul are treated with equivalency to those of the majority Democratic Party in Washington and--here's the key point--these movement activists and their ideas are often discussed without much mention of their connections to Beck or Paul. Beck earns his share of attention, granted. But there is almost no recognition whatsoever of the true origins of this conservative backlash. The movement is instead covered as if it is the somehow the byproduct and wind in the sails of national Republicans like Michael Steele, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, when in fact it is operating wholly independently of any or all of them. And remember that these are people who, as Nate pointed out earlier this month, believe that the president is a socialist Muslim interloper born in Africa; who, as I suspect, somehow think that earmark and tort reform will solve our deficit problems; and who, as we saw today, cheer without any sense of internal contradiction as Beck boasts about educating himself for "free" at a public library system paid for by the very taxes he complains about.
But go try to find much in the way of reporting on how closely connected these two movements are. Or how disconnected these people are from political reality. You won't find much. Because the media wants to provide competitive balance to its narrative, reporting to date has either willfully disconnected the Tea Party movement from the Ron Paul presidential campaign or it simply has not noticed.
It's going to be--or ought to be--hard now for the national political pundit class not to notice these connections anymore.