First Posted: 02/ 9/2012 12:02 pm Updated: 02/ 9/2012 1:16 pm
By – Howard Fineman
WASHINGTON — Conservatives begin their annual jamboree here Thursday certain of two things, although they don’t say them out loud. They need another Ronald Reagan. They don’t have another Ronald Reagan.
Invoking the Gipper is almost a religious requirement on the Republican campaign trail this year, but none of the presidential candidates is convincingly channeling the true Reagan spirit: He spent a lifetime thinking through the conservative movement and turning it into a salable set of ideas.
Rather than serving as a unifying moment, the four-day Conservative Political Action Conference, now in its 39th year, has become a symbol of a sprawling, ultimately incoherent movement that has yet to develop a new synthesis for a new century.
“The one thing that unites everybody is a hatred of Barack Obama,” said Craig Shirley, a CPAC veteran and one of Reagan’s newest and best biographers. “But hatred of the president is not a governing philosophy.”
The 2012 GOP race is divided into the shards of the old alliance, with Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul each appealing to different pieces of the now-shattered right and Mitt Romney acting the colorless “establishment” leader in a party without them. It feels more like the end of an era than the beginning of one, even though, paradoxically, this year’s CPAC may well set a record for attendance and revenue.
Once CPAC was a launching pad for presidents, especially Reagan. This week, the Woodstock of the Right looks more like a trade show for new products. Somewhere in the crowded corridors and meeting rooms, there may be a new generation in the making. But you’re unlikely to hear it in speeches from the presidential candidates.