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Evanson: The CPAC Bachelor

BY KEITH EVANSON | MARCH 04, 2015 5:00 AM

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Vying for the love and affection from Republicans at the Conservative Political Action Committee last week, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul took home the last rose at the straw poll this year.

And just like the finalists who are victorious on “The Bachelor” television series, this result means absolutely nothing as it relates to the nomination for the 2016 presidential election. In its 41-year history, the winner of the CPAC straw poll from the year before the presidential election has never won the nomination in the following year (though Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney did win in the years when the CPAC poll fell on an election year).

Current star of “The Bachelor” Chris Soules of Arlington, Iowa, may even have a chance to win the Republican nomination as anyone in this varied group of candidates that range from Tea Party conservatives such as Ted Cruz to more moderate candidates such as Jeb Bush. In fact, if he started campaigning right now, I think Soules has potential to obtain more votes than both of these candidates in a farmer-turned-politician story. Iowa loves that in their politicos (See: Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Joni Ernst).

So, what is there to learn from CPAC and its straw-poll results?

The results may be more representative of whom young Republicans identify with. According to CPAC, 18- to 25-year olds make up 47 percent of the total vote, highly disparate from the older demographic that turns out to vote at the caucuses and primaries. Libertarian-leaning Paul winning the poll for the third year in a row means something as it pertains to a stable political temperature for young Republicans.

The old guard of traditional conservatism that existed during the Reagan years isn’t marketable anymore, at least to youths. Pew Research Center released survey results last week that showed that a majority of young Republicans are in favor of marijuana legalization. This is much distanced from the War on Drugs initiative sponsored by Republicans who came of age in previous decades. Same-sex marriage was also found in the study to be favored by a majority of young Republicans. These issues, albeit social issues, are what distinctly define the boundary between the old and new in the party.

These findings make it all the more interesting that the second-place finisher to Paul was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a more traditional conservative. The man most famous for being the only governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election has since surged to the top of the Republican field. Coverage surrounding the Iowa Freedom Summit in January was unanimous in proclaiming Walker as the shining star of the entire conference.

Walker seems to strike a chord with a conservative base that has felt disconnected since a Romney-era infatuation with big business. Walker’s anecdote he’s been famous for employing at public events involves a personal shopping story of using coupons to get a discount price on a T-shirt at Kohl’s.

Tactically aligning himself with the “common man,” middle-class voters who were disenchanted by a Romney election infamous for “47 percent” speeches, they have now found themselves a new hero who is just like them: a regular person trying to save $5 on a plaid shirt.

Between deciding between Walker and Paul, there seems to be a conundrum among young Republicans in whom they choose to represent them. On one side of the table are those Libertarian warriors who prioritize personal freedoms and decreased presence in the Middle East; on the other are conservatives who occupy themselves with balancing federal budgets and increasing the U.S. presence to combat ISIS.

The problem is that younger people, regardless of party affiliation, don’t vote. The future platform of the Republican Party won’t be determined by those 18 to 25, at least in the voting booths. And that final tally at the caucuses and primaries next year, the person selected to represent the party nationally in a presidential race is what people will remember for decades to come.


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