WASHINGTON – Ron Paul and his army of fans have been conspicuously missing from this year’s CPAC pageant, a marked change from the past two years, leaving many of us to wonder where the libertarian demigod has been hiding.Paul campaign spokesman Gary Howard told Business Insider that the candidate turned down a Friday keynote speaking slot at CPAC to “concentrate on campaigning.” He added that Paul has no plans to compete in the annual CPAC straw poll, a surprising move given that Paul has won the past two polls by huge margins.
But Paul’s campaign schedule has been relatively light this week, so surely he could have made time for a quick trip to Washington to pay his respects at the annual conservative confab.
But like everything about the Paul campaign, the decision to skip CPAC is part of a calculated strategy designed to allocate resources with maximum efficiency.
In the case of CPAC, the resource in question is Paul’s ardent following. Howard told Business Insider that the campaign knew that if Paul spoke at the conference this year, his fans would descend on Washington to listen and represent their candidate in the straw poll. With this in mind, the campaign decided that those human resources would be of far greater use in the field, Howard said, where Paul is gearing up to compete in 12 Republican nominating contests over the next few weeks.
Although Howard did not mention it, the decision to skip CPAC has the added benefit of quelling tensions between the event’s organisers and Paul’s staunchly libertarian fan base. In past years, Paul supporters have raised a ruckus as their views — particularly those on foreign policy — came into conflict with those of the other CPAC attendees. (Conference organisers were no doubt relieved that they could parade Oliver North around this year without having to worry that he would be heckled as a war criminal.)
As Paul works to expand his voter base beyond this core group of diehards, however, it is probably helpful to avoid alienating the rank-and-file Republicans for whom CPAC is a bubble-like refuge from liberal judgments. Paradoxically, his absence from this year’s Republican jamboree could be another sign that Paul’s role is shifting from party provocateur to that of someone who is changing the shape of the GOP from the inside.
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