Beyond the GOP establishment, it is hard to say there was any real loser at this year's conference. Many people thought it would be the conference itself, because of the exclusion of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell as well as a gay conservative organization GOProud. In the long run, such exclusions might hurt the conference, but in the short term CPAC by and large skirted by the controversy.
After all, a full slate of potential presidential candidates did show up to speak, which leads me to the winners. The chance to speak to this captive audience of grassroots activists is invaluable, and while some White House hopefuls were more effective in delivering their pitches, it is fair to say that Bush, Carson, Cruz, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, Santorum, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker can all be satisfied with their respective performances.
While Palin is often mocked by critics, she knows how to deliver a speech and energize the conservative base. She did just that and in typical Palin fashion the former Alaska governor had the moment on Saturday when she pulled out a large soda cup during her speech -- a jab at New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on large, sugary drinks. She clearly was a winner with the CPAC audience. Many people at the conference were wondering whether Palin will run for president in 2016.
And it is difficult to say that Christie was not also a winner. The New Jersey governor often emphasizes that he is not beholden to anyone, and excluding him from CPAC helped to show that he is not indebted to any corner of the Republican Party. And even though Christie's politics might not fit well with the organizers of CPAC, 7% of attendees chose him as their pick to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2016. Yes, yes, this nonscientific poll means nothing, but Christie came in fourth even though he was snubbed.
Well, maybe there was one loser: Donald Trump. While he was politely received, the successful businessman, reality TV star and outspoken Obama critic failed to rally the audience in his early Friday morning remarks.