Politico doesn't get CPAC

Politico’s Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman have produced a snarky yet sadly misguided analysis of the political backdrop to CPAC 2013. Their take reflects the mainstream media’s focus on particular personalities, as well as issues the left believes ought to define conservatives–gay issues, immigration, foreign policy, etc.

There is turmoil in the conservative movement, but it is less about specific people and principles and more about a crisis of trust between the grass roots and the leadership. Martin and Haberman note one of the recent drivers of that mistrust–the decision by several GOP governors to accept Obamacare funding for Medicaid expansion in their states–without noting that the problem goes deeper than disagreement on policy.

Governors like Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bob McDonnell of Virginia are not resented by conservatives because they are taking the Obamacare money. They are resented by conservatives because they emphatically refused to do so and have now broken their promise. The problem is not ideology, but credibility.

Conversely, Sen. Rand Paul’s stock is rising not because of the substance of his foreign policy views, but because of his willingness to take risks to oppose the Obama administration at a time when more senior leaders are looking for chances to make compromises that will (they believe) protect them from media attack.

The crisis is not about policy, but leadership. The good news is that CPAC presents a chance for new leaders to emerge.