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CPAC: Candidates Striking Fear In The Hearts Of Voters

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I'm at CPAC and will be providing periodic updates on the conferences events. Unfortunately there is no wifi within the conference area and I have to post from the lobby. As such, some of the posts contain less background linking than I would normally prefer.


Duncan Hunter

I missed Rep. Duncan Hunter's speech, but was able to catch the question and answer session with him adjacent to Senator Jim Inhofe's rant against the evils of global warming, or to be more specific, the evils of believing in global warming and being critical of people like him who don't believe in science.

Hunter's Q&A meandered through anecdotes about his father's work on the Goldwater and Reagan campaigns to an extended talk on the dangers of Mexican immigrants. Hunter's 8:30 AM speaking slot - well before most Romney-bussed, hung-over college Republicans were even dragging themselves towards to toilet to purge themselves of last night's Bacardi Light binge - spoke to his low standing within the Republican presidential field. At least the Congressman knows it, saying "The best guy doesn't always win, but the best principles prevail in the end."* Hunter recognizes that the greatest impact he can have in this campaign is to make immigration a major issue in the Republican primary.

That said, he made good faith attempts to project the viability of his campaign, noting his strong performances in the Maricopa County (AZ) and Spartanburg (SC) straw polls and spent lots of time waxing poetic about the virtue of fences, fences on top of fences and fences surrounding roads. Somewhere in there I'm pretty sure Hunter praised robots. Lastly, Hunter bizarrely touted running television ads in New Hampshire and South Carolina -- his campaign is suspected of illegally using funds from his political action committee to pay for the presidential ads.

Mike Huckabee
Huckabee's entrance into CPAC's main ballroom was a fairly close mirror to what his current levels of support where: a subdued ovation equaled his second tier status with a potential to rise. Huckabee tried to win the crowd over through humor and candor, labeling this conference more appropriately the "Conservative Presidential Anxiety Conference," where Republican base voters can be found asking, "Dude, where's my candidate?"

The dissatisfaction and uncertainty that Huckabee spent much of his speech subtly reminding the audience was that there is no traditional Republican candidate heading the field. The Republican Party's top-tier, according to conventional wisdom, is populated by a social moderate (Rudy Giuliani), a perceived social moderate (John McCain), and a former social moderate (Mitt Romney). Huckabee's campaign prospects depend on conservative base voters rejecting these three many and searching hard for an alternative.

Huckabee reached out to these people during his speech by talking about his standing as a fiscal conservative and his positioning on abortion, religion, education, immigration and gay rights.

Huckabee's talk on the conservative culture of life sought to tie the war on terror in with abortion. "This country is strong because it is a culture of life. What separates us from the Islamics is that we are a culture of life." Huckabee illustrated this point by comparing the support within some portions of the radical Islamic community of suicide bombings and the American response Sago Mine disaster. Apparently because so many millions of Americans watched that tragedy and eventual failure to rescue all but one of the miners trapped inside, we have a culture of life that should be compared to radical Islamists.

Perhaps a more fitting analogy to some Muslims praising and supporting suicide bombings would be to Republican war bloggers who celebrated the destruction of Iraq (back when we were winning the war) and have called for the use of tactical nuclear weapons and massive aerial bombardments of Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations. Both represent tiny, depraved subsets of the larger communities to which they belong; neither should be generalized into representations of all of America nor all of the Muslim world. Unfortunately, Huckabee did that and painted the Muslim faith as one that does not support a culture of life.

But Huckabee doesn't stop his fear-mongering there.

"There can be no negotiation with radical Islamic fascists...They are not interested in detente, they are not interested in some type of peaceful coexistence. They are solely interested in...our absolute annihilation and destruction." Huckabee made a strong play towards this audiences' fear that Al Qaeda will completely wipe out every American life and destroy this country. What he never discusses is how people holed up in caves in Pakistan and Afghanistan or bombed-out neighborhoods in Iraq are going to turn their hatred of us into an existential threat to the United States of America. All he does is recognize that some people hate us and would want to do what they have thus far been unable to do.

Huckabee spent far more time talking about Islamic terrorists than I expected, far more than he did talking about traditional Christian values issues (abortion, gay rights, stem cell research). The clear implication is that Huckabee does not think that the moral values voters of 2004 still exist as a bloc within the Republican base that needs to be mobilized for victory. This bloc has been converted into voters who cast their lot based on their griping fear that their life and this country will be suddenly extinguished by bearded imams from Afghanistan and Iran.

Huckabee left to a much louder ovation than the one he was greeted with. I guess playing to conservatives' fears worked well for him. Expect fawning praise of his seriousness to come from right wing bloggers shortly...

*All quotes included in this post is based on live transcription. I cannot assert they are 100% accurate.