CPAC Straw Poll, And Final Thoughts

Mitt Romney narrowly won the CPAC straw poll, but he did so mainly on the strength of ballots cast before his withdrawal. The final results took a back seat to the story told by the shift in voting after the first day’s events:

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney narrowly beat John McCain, 35 to 34 percent, in a straw poll of conservative political activists gathered Saturday in Washington — a vote that is viewed as a barometer of support from that major GOP voting bloc. …
Roughly one-quarter of the votes in the three-day CPAC 2008 straw poll were cast before Mitt Romney dropped out of the presidential race, and three-quarters after his withdrawal.
In votes cast before Romney left the race, he beat McCain 44 to 27 percent. Among votes gathered after Romney’s withdrawal, McCain led Romney 37 to 32 percent.

I cast my vote on Friday, and I cast it for John McCain. A number of Romney supporters did the same, apparently, and it mirrors to a large degree the dynamic we saw on the CPAC floor throughout the three-day event. Romney remained popular with the conservative activists despite his withdrawal from the race (technically a “suspension”), and perhaps even increased the affection in the manner of his capitulation on Thursday. Still, many here have begun to make the necessary shift in focus from candidate advocacy to coalition building, and that process will continue.
I am somewhat surprised that Mike Huckabee did not do well after Romney’s withdrawal. There was a little bit of buzz here that some support might swing to Huckabee from Romney in order to oppose McCain, and on Saturday a number of Huckabee supporters arrived for his speech. Either they did not vote in the straw poll or didn’t move the needle in the overall tally, which reflects the mistrust that attendees have with Huckabee’s economic populism.
The next few weeks will allow for a period of sorting out the emotions that came into CPAC. Many here feel very concerned that a coalition split will damage the agenda all the way down the line. The final panel at CPAC warned of just such a result and pointed to the poor showing thus far in the primaries as an indicator of that danger. They emphasized that all of the factions in the Republican coalition need to help each other and combine to push the broadest conservative agenda possible, and that they need to interlock in order to wield power effectively.
Is John McCain the man to lead such a diverse but interlocked coalition of conservative factions? If he can build the proper team for a general election campaign, he might be. We’ll see who he selects as his advisers and potential Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officers in the next administration. That will speak to his ability to forge an alliance that can not only win a presidential election, but also generate the coattails necessary to give him some strength in Congress.
I hope you have enjoyed my coverage of CPAC as much as I have enjoyed covering the conference. It is an exhausting task, but one of the most fulfilling events on the calendar. We have a number of great podcasts at BlogTalkRadio’s CPAC Channel, which you can access by clicking on the logo below. If you enjoyed what you’ve read and heard and want to help defray a few personal expenses, feel free to hit my tipjar on the sidebar — anything would be appreciated.
Today is a travel day, but I’ll be back to my normal schedule on Monday. Thank you for your readership, and thanks to everyone on Blogger Row and the friends we met who read and support us.
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Huckabee Persists

For some reason, this didn’t publish when I wrote it this morning. I’m posting it now instead.
Governor Mike Huckabee addressed an enthusiastic crowd at CPAC this morning, despite giving his speech at the sleepy hour of 9 am on Saturday. Huckabee clearly was in fine mettle, keeping the fires going in the campaign. He spoke about the Fair Tax plan, at one point tearing up a 1040 form and throwing the pieces in the air to the delight of the crowd.
Huckabee refuses to withdraw from the race. That didn’t surprise anyone here, and the lack of anticipation could be seen throughout the exhibition hall. Where business came to a halt with the speeches from Mitt Romney and John McCain, most people outside the hall where Huckabee appeared gave the speech much notice at all. He wants to continue to press for the policy stands he has taken in his campaign, and feels the best way to do that is to continue that campaign until it comes to a natural end at the convention — and as he put it, he “majored in miracles” in divinity college.
The miracles will not likely manifest themselves on the campaign trail, but his continuing efforts will not have a deleterious effect on the Republicans. The contest between McCain and Huckabee has remained highly collegial, and there is no reason to believe that it will deteriorate at this point. While it might distract from the effort at unity by the McCain camp for a couple of more weeks, it represents no threat to McCain’s eventual ascension.

CPAC Podcast: Speaker Newt Gingrich

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Rob Neppell and I interviewed former Speaker Newt Gingrich for a special CPAC Channel podcast. Gingrich talked about his efforts at American Solutions, where he is building grassroots efforts to bypass partisan roadblocks to resolving the issues ordinary Americans face. He also told us that the Republican Party can’t win running a contrast campaign, but have to put forth a positive message with a real agenda for progress.
I asked him about John McCain and how conservatives should approach his apparent nomination. He responded by saying that conservatives should not wed themselves to the GOP. However, he also reminds us that one can support a candidate while opposing some of their policies, and that John McCain is much better than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Don’t miss this interview!

Bitter Enders

How are the attendees of CPAC handling the ascension of John McCain to the nomination? For the most part, I’d say fairly well. McCain hasn’t generated wild enthusiasm from conservative activists, but the general sense is that he’s earned an opportunity to partner with conservatives. I chatted briefly with McCain volunteers at their booth, and they say they’ve signed up over 200 new volunteers. That would be a significant number for any candidate at a conference with this kind of diversity.
However, not everyone wants to put the divisions behind them. When I got to Blogger Row this morning, the desks had been papered by Patriot PAC. They have launched a new website, OpenGOPConvention, to urge voters to deny McCain the outright nomination. Headlined “CONTAIN MCCAIN!”, they want Republicans to wait for a “real Ronald Reagan conservative” — as if no one thought of the idea before. They also left copies of a Washington Times column by Terry Michael calling McCain “the John Kerry of ’08”.
Frankly, that’s absurd, and the messenger is even more so. Terry Michaels used to be the press secretary for the DNC. Somewhat ironically, the first flyer warns of a media conspiracy to promote McCain, while Michaels now works for Washington Center for Politics and Journalism, the very nexus of which Patriot PAC warns. Now we have a Democratic press flack warning Republicans not to nominate John McCain — because he’s not Republican enough?
We have had the longest and most open primary in our history. During that period, we talked endlessly about Ronald Reagan, begging for credible presidential candidates who could fill his shoes or at least shine them. If we didn’t get anyone who could pass muster over the last year, what makes anyone think we could produce one now? And who would it be, anyway?
John McCain isn’t a perfect candidate; far from it. He’s the one who has attracted the most votes from the Republican coalition, though, and the various coalition factions have failed to produce anyone better. Being a bitter ender will take the party to a bitter end. It’s time to start working within the McCain team to increase our influence, rather than engage in fantasies about magic candidates and marginalizing the movement.

Expelled: The Movie

The bloggers at CPAC received an invitation to screen a new documentary on academic intolerance called Expelled: The Movie this evening. The documentary features Ben Stein on a quest to understand the near-hysteria caused by scientists who so much as broach the idea of intelligent design in papers or in research. It follows Stein as he interviews professors denied tenure, editors fired, and journalists shunned for touching the subject even at its most innocuous levels.
Before discussing my feelings about the film, which is still in post-production and will not go into release until April, I should explain my approach to the ID/evolution debate. I believe evolution is demonstrably proven in enough examples to say that its effect on variation in species cannot be denied. The example I used tonight in discussing this with another viewer (certainly not the only example) is antibiotic effects on bacteria. Antibiotics that kill 99% of bacteria eventually promote the survival and the expansion of the 1% that resist them, created superbacteria that require another set of antibiotics to cure, and so on.
That said, evolution does not interfere with my faith in God. God certainly could have created the universe with a design that included life. The rational laws of nature would include evolution, as well as the myriad of other rational and mathematically provable mechanisms that undergird nature. In fact, the impulse of man to discover the rational laws of nature began with the belief in a rational God, as scientists understood nature’s rationality to reveal an intelligent Creator.
I’d go deeper than that, but Dinesh D’Souza covers it nicely enough already in his book What’s So Great About Christianity, and it’s getting late enough as it is. Suffice it to say that evolution doesn’t present a threat to my worldview.
Rationally, we have to admit that some use ID as an excuse to teach the more literal form of Creationism that has been used to argue against evolution entirely, especially against teaching evolution in primary-school classrooms. That admission does not appear in Expelled, which is a glaring omission. It tends to take out of context the frustration some scientists have about ID, and its place in polarizing the debate over its use. Properly framed, ID accepts all of the science without accepting its transformation into its own belief system.
What do I mean by that? In this, the film does an excellent job of demonstrating atheism as a belief system. Atheism as represented by Richard Dawkings and others in this film gets exposed as exactly the kind of belief system they claim to despise. They can’t prove God exists — and they can’t prove God doesn’t exist. They make the common fallacy of arguing that absence of evidence amounts to evidence of absence.
But in a way, this is all secondary to the real issue of the film: academic intolerance. The debate over ID vs Darwinism sets the table for a truly disturbing look at academia. Science should be about the free debate and research of ideas and hypotheses for duplicable results and provable theorems. However, as the examples Stein and the film provide amply show, the Darwinist academic establishment will brook no dissent from the orthodoxy — and scientists have to be shown with hidden faces to speak to the issue for the film.
Amusingly, Stein asks people how the first cell came to be. None of the scientists could give him a straight answer. Dawkins himself admits he doesn’t know and that no one else does, either — but postulates that aliens could have brought life to this planet, and then postulates that another alien civilization could have brought life to that planet, and so on. He then concedes that one entity could have been the original source … but insists that entity could not possibly have been God. For this he gives absolutely no evidence at all, relegating it as a belief system somewhat akin to Scientology.
All of this is extremely effective, as are the many allusions made to the Berlin Wall during the film. The theme runs throughout, and it explicitly refers to the defensive academic establishment as having built a wall that tramples on freedom of thought and discourse. Less effective is the heavy references to the Nazis in the movie. Although emotionally affecting for some obvious reasons, the fact is that while the Nazis were mostly Darwinists (along with a lot of other things), the vast majority of Darwinists aren’t Nazis. Certainly the eugenicists in Nazi Germany were mightily influenced by Darwinism, but America had its own eugenicists, which the film points out.
I should point out that the film has not finished production, and that changes will be made between now and its release in April. The filmmakers just completed an interview with Christopher Hitchens and will include it in the final cut. I believe other changes may be made which could address some of the criticisms I’ve written here.
Overall, though, the film presents a powerful argument not for intelligent design as much as for the freedom of scientific inquiry. If scientists get punished for challenging orthodoxy, we will not expand our learning but ossify it in concrete. Expelled: The Movie is entertaining, maddening, funny, and provocative. Keep an eye out for it in theaters in two months.

CPAC Podcast: Governor Jim Gilmore

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Governor Jim Gilmore withdrew from the Republican presidential race last summer, but he has decided to run for Virginia’s Senate seat currently held by the retiring John Warner. He spoke with Rob Neppell and me just after my Heading Right Radio show, and he outlined the conservative values that he intends to uphold in continuing service to Virginia. Anyone wishing to contribute to this important race needs to visit his website, Jim Gilmore for Senate.