At last year’s CPAC, Dick Cheney got so much applause the walls shook. (As an aside, I remember him during that speech scoffing at all the economic doomsayers, but that’s a topic for another post.) The doors opened at 5 a.m. for President George Bush’s speech, with the crowd chanting “W! W! W!” Even as Bush’s poll numbers were sagging even among Republicans, CPAC-ers were unreservedly standing by their man.

Today, the winner of the “most maligned” award goes to Barack Obama, but Bush comes in a close second. Ron Paul kvetched about the growth of the Department of Education -- “I thought we were supposed to eliminate the Department of Education.” Accuracy in Media’s Cliff Kincaid, while introducing Rep. Mike Pence, called the congressman one of the few to stand up to “pseudo-socialist president George W. Bush.”

None of this is very surprising, but for a group that tends to hold on to its icons (Newt Gingrich, Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan) for decades, it’s just another sign of the whiplash conservatives are experiencing right now. I found a more concrete sign while wandering about the exhibit hall, asking “Who is the party’s standard-bearer right now?” Answers ranged from Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to Rep. Paul Ryan. But it took them, on the average, two minutes to come up with their answer. Most people looked over to their friends for ideas. Many laughed. All shrugged.

In a last-ditch effort to find someone with some passion behind their response, I approached the guy wearing a fluffy gray bulldog costume for the National Taxpayer’s Union. I swear I heard him growl before answering: “Honestly? I have no idea.”

Christie Findlay is editor-in-chief at Politics magazine. cfindlay@politicsmagazine.com