- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Like kissing the ring of a mafia don, a Republican who wants to run for president has to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

That’s because a candidate needs the base to come out to the polls to win the primary. Conservatives don’t show up for a squish.

As CPAC kicks off on Thursday at National Harbor in Washington’s Maryland suburbs, the schedule gives away the politicos who want the GOP nomination in 2016.

Those who will take the main stage over the next three days (in order): Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Tim Scott, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Mike Lee, Donald Trump, Gov. Rick Perry, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Dr. Ben Carson and Sarah Palin.

The two major players who won’t be at CPAC are Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Both were invited but had legitimate commitments that couldn’t be changed.

Al Cardenas is chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the convention. “CPAC is a prerequisite for candidates because of the media coverage and the conservative group in attendance,” Mr. Cardenas told me in an interview Thursday.

There are more than 200 conservative groups at the conference, with their leaders and opinion makers in the movement to listen to what the candidates say.

Also, more than 2,000 members of the media are credentialed for the events. One independent media analysis showed that CPAC gets the most press coverage in the country after the Super Bowl and the presidential conventions.

Mr. Cardenas said it’s already clear what the base is looking for this week in a candidate for 2016.

“Conservatives are looking for a new face with a high energy level who can sell a message of optimism and vision of the future, who can go toe to toe with the Democratic nominee and bring home a win,” he explained. “It remains to be seen who best fits that profile this cycle.”

For Republicans to win back the White House, they will have to work out their disagreement over whether they can win the general election with a Tea Party conservative or need to field a moderate to get the independent vote.

The Tea Party movement is worried that the GOP establishment will field a moderate. “You look at Jeb Bush and one of his Achilles heels is his willingness to further federal education standards through Common Core,” FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe told me in an interview.

“We’ve run Bob Dole so many times and lost, let’s try something different.”

Mr. Kibbe pointed out that the leading names mentioned in 2016 are products of the five-year-old Tea Party movement.

“Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio all represent the core values that the Tea Party cares about — fiscal responsibility, individual liberty and constitutionally limited government,” he said.

The 11,000 CPAC attendees will vote in the annual straw poll (sponsored by The Washington Times) for the presidential election.

This year has a whopping 26 names on the ballot — all the speakers named above, plus other female party stars such as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

The party is flush with talent, but no one has surged ahead yet. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has sealed up the Democratic nomination without even announcing her candidacy.

Joe Biden, bless his heart, would like Democrats to think he’s a credible candidate, but no one but wife Jill does.

The things standing between President Obama’s former secretary of state and the Democratic nomination are Benghazi, a foreign policy that is rapidly proving a disaster in China and Russia, and her rumored health issues.

Should anything upset a Hillary 2016 campaign, the veep stands to take over the party mantle. That should scare Democrats down to their hemp-covered toes.

So Hillary has a leg up now with time to line up big donors and endorsements. But the Grand Old Party will benefit from an open primary process in which the candidates can be tested, and voters will choose their favorite, instead of Washington’s Grand Poobahs.

The only mistake Republicans could make in the next two years is to listen to the liberal media and the party establishment, who say the only way to get back the desk in the Oval Office is with a mainstream moderate.

They tried that in 2008 and 2012 and got smashed in the elections. This is the time to turn to a young, Tea Party-grown conservative with strong grass-roots support who can energize the base and inspire the electorate.

Emily Miller is senior editor of opinion for The Washington Times and author of “Emily Gets Her Gun” (Regnery, 2013).


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