It's CPAC time. That means thousands of Republicans are descending on National Harbor over the next few days. And at this rate, it seems that about half of them will run for president. Now all they need is one viable candidate.
The 2016 Republican presidential primary began unexpectedly early, when Jeb Bush made the December declaration that he was "actively exploring" a run at the White House, accelerating his rivals' timeline in the process. Maybe they shouldn't have jumped the gun. If the last couple months have shown us anything, it's how wildly unprepared for primetime this cast of presidential hopefuls truly are.
Bush's nascent campaign has been marred by one misstep after the next, from abject vetting failures to cringeworthy speeches to revelations about his problematic financial ties. Scott Walker has been getting pounded by the press as "spineless" after a parade of pathetic non-answers on straightforward questions, like whether he believes that evolution is real or the president is Christian. Chris Christie appears to have more supporters in luxury boxes and private jets than he has in New Jersey these days, as the one-time favorite has been relegated to a punchline. The list goes on and on.
And while CPAC offers a potential lifeboat for a slew of floundering candidates, navigating the waters will be dicey. It's no secret that the Tea Party has dragged the GOP sharply to the right. These days, having appeal with the grassroots Republican base and appeal with the general electorate are mutually exclusive.
Already, many on the right distrust Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio on immigration; for others, it's Rand Paul's isolationism or Chris Christie's Medicaid expansion that they find unacceptable. And to further complicate matters, the GOP is locked in an intra-party ideological battle that's on the verge of shutting down the Department of Homeland Security over opposition to the president's deportation relief.
So how will these stumbling candidates manage to persuade CPAC's red meat crowd -- and more broadly, Republican primary voters -- of their conservative bona fides, without signing their own general election death warrants?
The simple answer: They can't.