THE ELEPHANTS IN THE ROOM. I attended CPAC today to hear two of the "big three" Republican contenders (Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney) and one of the second-tier candidates who hopes to break through (Sam Brownback). I'll say more about them, especially Giuliani, later. But some quick observations about CPAC that simply need to be noted.

First, you almost never George W. Bush's name. Not among attendees, not in the speeches by candidates or others. It's as if there is no Republican president in the White House about three miles from the hotel where the conservatives who elected him are meeting. Fascinating, and revealing.

Second, it's also as if there's no war in Iraq. By my unofficial count, Giuliani mentioned Iraq just once by name -- and that in an offhand reference to a criticism of Democrats' non-binding resolutions. (A fair enough criticism, at that.) Brownback? Two references. Romney mentioned Iraq the most, taking it head-on by advocating for Bush's escalation plan. At CPAC, such Bush-and-Iraq double-mentions are as common as safeties in football.)

It's painfully obvious that conservatives are in near-total denial. There is a Republican president, and he is -- as everyone from The New Republic's Peter Beinart a few weeks ago to then-Washington Monthly's Josh Green a few years ago -- more, not less, conservative than Ronald Reagan. And there is an Iraq war going on, which has killed 4,000 Americans (counting contractors) already and will almost assuredly have a total, long-term price tag of at least $1 trillion.

Pretending these are not realities doesn't make them go away. But, boy, are the conservatives doing their level best to avoid the two big elephants in the room.

--Tom Schaller

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