At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall addresses a reader's question:
What is it about CPAC? Every year it totally takes over the political news space. There's wall to wall coverage. Netroots Nation, which is also held every year, and other progressive/Democratic oriented events just don't get anywhere near the attention. So why is that?Marshall notes that CPAC (unlike Netroots Nation) is always in D.C. and therefore is easy and cheap for D.C.-based media outlets to cover. He says that D.C. is (as he's often put it) "wired for Republicans" -- the inside Beltway culture is inclined to believe that Republicans are the capital's more powerful and dynamic party. And he talks about a "conspiracy of derp between the event organizers and the people who cover it. You be outrageous; we'll be outraged. And everyone will be happy."
I'm not sure that's a complete explanation.
The right has figured out how to make partisan politics into popular, profitable entertainment, in a way that liberalism hasn't. Right-wing talk radio is huge; left-wing talk radio has never gained a toehold. MSNBC prime time gets pretty good ratings, but Fox has been the top-rated cable news channel every month for the past twelve years. So, yeah, it's laughable that Sarah Palin brings down the house with a tendentious Green Eggs and Ham parody plagiarized from a 2010 right-wing email forward. But there's a huge audience that loves that.
The fact that right-wingers love this stuff is, obvioualy, a clear sign that they're insane. On the other hand, it's why they vote. They're always fired up. They're on guard 24/7 against a menacing liberal juggernaut that threatens imminent societal doom, and they're always ready to smite the liberal beast.
Meanwhile, we're reading that establishment Republicans are having some success in rebuffing tea party challengers. At Digby's place, David Atkins looks at the fact that Rand Paul won the CPAC straw poll even as the tea party is being rebuffed by the establishment and concludes that the GOP is "a party in tatters."
I don't see it that way. Establishment Republicans may be trying to beat insurgents, but part of the way they're doing that is by becoming more like the insurgents. The tea party has won. If it ceases to exist tomorrow, it will have left a permanent mark on the GOP -- as a result of the ter party, just about every non-teabag Republican has felt the need to tack even further to the right.
CPAC is where the crazies talk crazy, and the not-quite-as-crazies try to do their best crazy imitations....
But, y'know, it's not as if these seemingly less crazy Republicans were sane, exactly, before the tea party came along. Even before President Obama took office, Mitch McConnell set out to block everything Obama wanted, using relentless party discipline and every procedural trick at his disposal. (That's an old GOP tradition. Starting on Election Night 1992, Bob Dole also set out to block the entire Clinton agenda with filibusters.)
But CPAC, with its Palins and Wayne LaPierres delivering even redder meat, makes guys like McConnell look reasonable. That improves their image with swing voters. At the same time, the party's McConnells meet the crazies more than partway at CPAC, which acts as a bonding exercise for the party's two wings.
CPAC bamboozles the center and keeps the right from going third party. So it does what the GOP wants it to do.