From John Fund at WSJ:
Congressional Republicans viewed the raucous Conservative Political Action Conference that concluded this weekend with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the presence of 10,000 enthusiastic people in Washington's largest hotel showed just how reenergized the conservative movement has become. Republicans had to be pleased with the wild reception given Dick Cheney and Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown when they appeared as surprise guests. Mr. Cheney even predicted that Barack Obama would be a one-term president.
But incumbent GOP members of Congress had to be nervous about the undertone of distrust directed at them by many conference attendees, fueled by suspicion that the same members who went hog wild on spending during the Bush years haven't really learned their lesson. The CPAC presidential straw poll for 2012, dominated by students, saw their rigidly libertarian colleague Rep. Ron Paul come in first place with 31%, besting even Sarah Palin by a ratio of five to one.
Then there was Glenn Beck, who gave a tumultuous closing address at CPAC. GOP members have long welcomed the Fox News host's frontal attacks on the Obama administration, but they cringe when he doles out equal-opportunity criticism to Republicans. He was in bipartisan bashing mode on Saturday, as he called on Republican politicians to have a come-to-Jesus moment and renounce profligate spending, end bank bailouts and resist the "progressive" agenda of the Obama Democrats. Mr. Beck even said the GOP should confess its own weakness for big government in the way golfer Tiger Woods admitted his penchant for adultery -- and show the same remorse.
Republicans in Congress will no doubt view Mr. Beck's comments as unhelpful. They feel the time for ritualistic self-flagellation is over, and they should be judged by their success in mobilizing nearly every Republican in Congress to vote against last year's stimulus package and the Obama health care bill. Several GOPers complained that Mr. Beck is indirectly encouraging third-party candidates to challenge them this year, threatening to divide the conservative vote.
In reality, the Tea Party activists who are the core of Mr. Beck's viewing audience have made a pragmatic decision to forswear splinter-group politics and work within the Republican Party. It's true Mr. Beck's words sting and may show insufficient appreciation for recent GOP solidarity against big government. But given the powerful pressures in Washington for even conservatives to backslide when it comes to spending, the Fox News firebrand is probably doing GOP members a favor by keeping the heat on them. When he was president, even Ronald Reagan expressed private appreciation for activists who made it uncomfortable for the "weak sisters" in the Republican Party who didn't back his agenda.