Trail To The Chief: The CPAC Effect Edition

The CPAC Effect Edition

This week, the field of hopefuls on the Republican side of the 2016 nomination circus faced a critical acid test -- the Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC. Every year, CPAC brings together the nation’s most engaged conservatives -- dedicated activists, media renegades, big-think specialists, and the college kids who all want to be a part of it. From there, their collective pull summons those in the Republican Party who most want to be its standard-bearer.

And this, in turn, presents every would-be presidential candidate with an interesting challenge. Because CPAC isn’t about gratifying party elites or wealthy Republican grandees. Neither is it about pleasing the Republican “base” -- by which we mean the masses of voters who prefer conservative policies. At CPAC, you try to satisfy the conservative movement itself -- whose members are most on the cutting edge of American conservatism, and always spoiling for a fight with anyone deemed to be lacking in purity.

So, we’re going to take another stab at ranking the GOP’s would-be nominees. However, this week we’re going to force ourselves to examine the field while looking through the CPAC prism -- a filter capable of making you question if the contender you thought was golden is really black and blue.

1 SCOTT WALKERMay have had the most perfect week of his career had he not compared Wisconsinites to ISIS; now learning all about damage control. Republican
2 RAND PAULFulfilled family obligation by winning CPAC poll, but couldn't keep the luster off of Walker's star. Republican
3 JEB BUSHFirst time in a while that he’s walked into a room without just getting quietly handed some money; hopes it’s the last. Republican
4 BEN CARSONHis best advocates weren't the firebrands but the crowd of kindly old grandmothers. Republican
5 TED CRUZStraw poll bronze medalist, but it felt like he finished off the podium. Republican
6 CARLY FIORINAThis year’s version of the candidate that everyone loves but that no one will vote for. Republican
7 MARCO RUBIOTells CPAC crowd that he’s “learned his lesson” on immigration. So, that’s a start, at least. Republican
8 BOBBY JINDALHis big CPAC strategy was to assail “Washington.” You know, like everyone. Desperately needs a gimmick of his own. Republican
9 CHRIS CHRISTIE It's not the media that's your problem, governor. Republican
10 RICK PERRYCame to CPAC with an aim to get his “groove back.” His 1.1% in the straw poll put him behind Chris Christie (2.8%) and -- oof! -- Donald Trump (3.5%). Republican
11 MIKE HUCKABEENothing against the National Religious Broadcasters Convention, but the modern conservative movement is at CPAC. Republican

Candidate Photos: Getty, Associated Press