NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—One of the most helpful conversations of this CPAC (one, as you might tell, that was plagued by unreliable Internet) came when I reunited with Vernon Robinson, chairman of the committe to draft Ben Carson for president.* He urged me to read a new piece from the Sunlight Foundation, titled "Competition for Hillary." The foundation had noticed—before the media did—that Ben Carson's quasi-campaign was raising money faster than Clinton's. Robinson, a two-time candidate for Congress (he didn't win), had even paid for 2000 hotel key cards to bear the Ben Carson visage. And he was distributing T-shirts.
It's nice to notice something before the media gloms on. It's also nice to avoid the events that fit a narrative but don't actually represent a story. One (1) man arrived at CPAC to protest Chris Christie. He was constantly in the sights of reporters.
Still, as the circusy, campaign-oriented aspects of CPAC have waned, a new sort of circus has been born out of necessity. Generation Opportunity, the Koch-seeded millennial outreach group, co-sponsored a "War on Youth" booth with Ron Paul's Young Americans for Liberty. Five muscular men, marked with labels like "Federal Reserve" and "Cronyism," dressed in military garb and challenged passersby to tug-of-war and strength contests.
The National Tax Union took its inspiration from a game actually enjoyed by millennials—Cards Against Humanity.
And far less exciting organizations bid for (and won) media attention by paying a group of people to dress like Chewbacca, Boba Fett, and Stromtroopers.
*Correction, March 10, 2014: This post originally misspelled National Harbor.