It's About Time to Start Giving CPAC the Media Coverage It Deserves

| Mon Mar. 10, 2014 10:22 AM EDT

CPAC, that great annual gathering of conservative red meat and can-you-top-this condemnation of President Obama, came to an end Saturday (with a petulant, syntax-challenged stemwinder from Sarah Palin, natch). In passing, Lexington mentions something that's long puzzled me:

It is traditional for journalists to be a bit sniffy about CPAC straw polls, and with reason…CPAC attracts a very specific slice of the conservative movement, and its straw polls have a woeful record of predicting actual presidential nominees. Half the voters in this year’s effort were aged between 18 and 25, and two-thirds were male. Many seemed keen on Mr Paul’s brand of libertarianism, with its government-shrinking, pot-legalising, tax-cutting, privacy-obsessed, pull-up-the-drawbridge isolationism.

…Yet those who dismiss CPAC as a youth club for Ayn Rand (and Star Wars) fans risk overlooking the importance of the speeches here. Though the speakers pander to the crowd, they know that their words are whizzing around blogs, Twitter, talk radio and cable news TV. As a result, the senators and governors with presidential ambitions often give voice to what they believe their voters want to hear.

My puzzlement has always been just the opposite: The national political press mostly doesn't dismiss CPAC as an inconsequential libertarian love-fest. They love covering CPAC. But why? Every year, CPAC demonstrates its own irrelevance by overwhelmingly supporting Rand Paul or Ron Paul or some other eccentric conservative type in its final-day straw poll. It's solid proof that the attendees at CPAC represent a small and only slightly influential wing of the conservative movement.

And yet, the mere fact that CPAC reliably delivers the crazy seems to guarantee them plenty of coverage. I confess that I don't really get it. The average CPAC attendee wants to legalize drugs, cut the military, and rein in the NSA. The conservative movement writ large supports exactly the opposite: it wants to put the stoners in jail, give Vladimir Putin what for, and send the NSA a thank you card for protecting us from terrorists.

So why all the media love for CPAC? What's the deal?