Allen West Plays the Anti-Obama to Very White CPAC Crowd; Sarah Palin Gets 3% in Straw Poll
Allen West Wraps Up Conference With Authoritarian Speech
Rep. Allen West wrapped up the final evening of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference with a sternly delivered speech that offered little that was new, but rather a laundry list of right-wing complaints, laments and threats familiar to all in attendance.
As a reminder of his own military background, West began by inviting up to the stage a young army officer who trains those who guard the Tomb of the Unknowns. A retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, West was relieved of his command for his abuse of a detainee in Iraq. For the Tea Party crowd, that's not exactly a minus. In fact, tonight West asserted that he has a "problem with imprisoning our own warriors for killing terrorists."
West also told the crowd he knows that they've been called racists, but asserted that his selection as CPAC's keynote closing speaker gave lie to those accusations. West, an African-American, then set himself up as a sort of anti-Obama, railing against the president's agenda on issues ranging from health-care reform to the START treaty with Russia.
He warned against what he called "multiculturalism on steroids," which, he said, imperils "the definitive American culture." He continued, "When tolerance becomes a one-way street, it leads to cultural suicide."
West was initially considered a long shot in his race against incumbent Democrat Ron Johnson. Backed by the Tea Party movement, West rose to prominence with his in-your-face, often accusatory rhetoric, aimed even at his fans. At an October campaign appearance (video), West told cheering supporters, "In America today, you've got a class warfare that's going on. You've got a producing class and you've got an entitlement class..." As I mentioned in my Thursday CPAC post, this conspiracist notion, known as "producerism," has been a feature of the American right, going back to the days of Andrew Jackson.
"These people are living amongst us," West explained during his campaign appearance, "and if we are not willing to take a stand right now, and take this country back, and put it back on the right track of the principles and values it was established upon, you're complicit." Pointing at people in the audience, he added, "It's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault up there. It's okay to come in here to cheer-lead, but you better understand that it's a fight, and you better be willing to fight for this country."
That was then; this is now. No pointing at the audience tonight. Still, even after winning a seat in Congress, West appears to require a sense of being embattled in order to maintain the defiant stance that got him elected. And so tonight at CPAC he mentioned Politico's rating of his seat as "vulnerable" to Democratic challenge, and won the crowd by saying, "Standing here tonight in front of you, I don't feel so vulnerable."
He said "the liberal media" would continue "to attack" him, and then dared them to continue. He spoke with pride of having been named a "worst person" five times by former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. The CPAC crowd loved him for it.
West declared that he would "never let Israel down." He spoke of America's "Judeo-Christian culture" and declared himself pro-life, saying, "I don't believe that having a baby is a punishment." He called for a reduction of the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, and for the repeal of the health-care reform law.
It was difficult to hear West over the roar of the crowd -- so well was he received by the CPAC faithful -- so I have few complete quotes to offer you, since my voice recorder didn't hear any better than I did, and video of the speech has not been posted as I write.
However defiant his attitude, West's delivery was more measured and less fiery than it was on the campaign trail. He continued, however, to stand by radio talk show host Joyce Kaufman, whom West had named as chief of staff for his congressional office -- until a public outcry convinced him to dismiss her. Kaufman once called for the hanging of undocumented immigrants who commit crimes.
West's selection could be seen as a desire by CPAC leaders to prove the inclusiveness of their conference. Just before the results of CPAC's presidential poll -- won by Ron Paul -- were announced, a conference public relations official made the rounds of the media room to let us know that David Keene, the chairman of the CPAC's sponsoring organization, the American Conservative Union, would be available later in the evening to answer reporters' questions. "There will be a press availability after the Herman Cain speech," he said. "Herman Cain?" I asked. Cain had spoken the day before. "Yes," he replied, "after Herman Cain."
"Don't you mean Allen West?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah -- I meant Allen West."
Herman Cain is an African-American talk show host who is considering a run for president.
Ron Paul Presidential Straw Poll
For the second year in a row, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, won CPAC's presidential straw poll, winning nearly one third of all votes cast. Sarah Palin won a mere 3 percent of that vote, while Mike Huckabee, a favorite in a recent Fox News poll, barely placed at all.
Straw polls are notoriously unscientific, relying on prospective candidates to organizes contingents to attend a straw-poll sponsor's event. Neither Palin nor Huckabee appeared at CPAC, and organized no constituency at the contest. But Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. -- who received only 4 percent of the vote -- was ubiquitous for the first two days of the three-day conference, serving as the opening keynote speaker, host of a packed reception, and panelist the next day at a very well-attended event honoring Phyllis Schlafly (whom Bachmann described as her hero).
Of the estimated 11,000 CPAC attendees, more than 3,700 cast votes in the straw poll. Herewith from the CPAC press release:
The 2011 CPAC/Washington Times Presidential Straw Poll had a larger number of participants than any CPAC straw poll in past years, with a total of 3,742 votes. This was an increase of almost 56% over last year's numbers. In this year's poll Texas Congressman Ron Paul received 30% of the vote. He was followed closely by Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who received 23% of the vote. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie each received 6% of the vote. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich received 5%. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachman, and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels each received 4% of the vote. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin received 3% while Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and South Dakota Senator John Thune each received 2% of the vote. Former Utah Governor John Huntsman and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour each rounded out the voting with 1%. Other candidates received 5% of the vote, and 1% were undecided. The poll was opened to all CPAC participants.