When Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was censured by various GOP county committees in his own state recently, Graham dismissively blamed it on “Ron Paul people.” When Florida governor and U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Crist was defeated in a Republican straw poll by challenger Marco Rubio in December, Crist complained it was nothing more than “Ron Paul people”

At this year’s 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C/, there were plenty of “Ron Paul people,” enough to deliver the congressman a first-place victory in the annual CPAC straw poll, long considered a decent gauge of conservatives’ mindset. But when Paul’s victory was announced much of the CPAC crowd booed, showing disdain for the congressman not unlike that expressed by Graham and Crist. Those pesky “Ron Paul people” had struck again, it seemed, and many Republican establishment types quickly dismissed the poll. But one glaring question remains: Who is it that Paul’s critics prefer to him? What kind of “people” are they?

What, for example, are Mitt Romney people, who placed second this year and won CPAC’s straw poll the last three years? Romney was introduced at CPAC by newly elected senator Scott Brown, and the Massachusetts politicians stood side by side before a cheering conservative audience that seemed oblivious to the fact both men implemented government-mandated healthcare in their state, similar to the Democrats’ current national plan. President Obama and his party have even often cited the Massachusetts plan, known as “Romneycare,” as the model for “Obamacare.” In his speech, Romney also had much praise for George W. Bush. The crowd went wild.

What are “Dick Cheney people,” who received a standing ovation at CPAC? Said Cheney, “A welcome like that almost makes me want to run for office,” which elicited chants of “run, Dick run!” from the audience. Cheney promised that Obama would be a “one-term president” and said that conservatives could look forward to victory in 2010. Considering his big government track record, Cheney giving conservatives’ prospects is sort of like Tiger Woods giving marital advice. Yet loudly and with zero irony, CPAC cheered Cheney.

We could go down the list — what are Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, or Tim Pawlenty “people?” What solid, tangible conservative platform or agenda are any of these people suggesting, other than defeating Obama and the Democrats? Is a return to Bush Republicanism really a desirable goal, as Romney and Cheney’s warm welcomes seemed to suggest? Rush Limbaugh claims Paul’s straw poll victory means CPAC wasn’t conservative this year, which raises the question, “well, who was ‘conservative’ this year, Rush?” Since CPAC’s inception in 1973, what has actually been done to shrink the size of government? What in the last Republican administration, something Romney praises and Cheney represents, gives anyone who isn’t completely brain dead hope for a better, more conservative future?

When you boil it all down and though they won’t admit it, here’s what those who complain about “Ron Paul people” really care about — GOP victory. They don’t really care why, how, or to what ideological end — only that Democrats lose elections and Republicans win them. The tolerance of the big-government George W. Bush years proved as much, and the current nostalgia for Cheney only underscores this point. Those at CPAC who cheered Romney, Cheney, and the conventional rest have no intention of ever challenging the status quo precisely because they are the status quo.

Then there are the “Ron Paul people.” Paul’s CPAC speech was not simply partisan Democrat bashing, but a lesson on how any GOP worthy of challenging the status quo must finally deliver on the conservatism it has always promised. Paul said Republicans must finally show true fidelity to the Constitution. Considering the conservative movement’s abysmal failure in stopping government growth, Paul asked the crowd to reexamine first principles, casting a critical eye upon the Right’s enthusiasm for wars that don’t make much sense and cost too much money, incurring massive debt. In short, Paul called for an end to big government — all of it. Asks Pat Buchanan, “Who in the Republican Party today is calling for a Barry Goldwater-like rollback of federal power and federal programs? Except Ron Paul.” Answer: no one. Paul’s CPAC speech proved as much.

Derided as “kids,” or irrelevant “college students,” the many young people who support Paul are the heart and soul of what has been dubbed the “Ron Paul Revolution,” and they are a force to be reckoned with. Writes National Review Online’s Robert Costa, “Paul supporters were the most visible and vocal throughout CPAC.”

Expect Paul supporters to become even more visible and more vocal in the future, because it will be impossible to silence a genuine movement driven by actual conservative passion, and not just the two-party horse race the Republican establishment continues to mistake for principle. In their ignorance, conservatives who boo Paul, at CPAC or anywhere else, are essentially dismissing the only force in contemporary American politics serious about smaller government. And despite the constant media spin and gnashing of teeth, Ron Paul and his “people’s” onward march does not represent some sort of confusion within the conservative movement-but the only conservative movement.