When Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was censured by various GOP county committees in his own state recently, Graham 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, which has long been considered a decent gauge of the GOP’s mindset.

But when Paul’s victory was announced, much of the CPAC crowd booed. Those pesky Ron Paul people had struck again, it seemed. Many Republican establishment types quickly dismissed the poll. But two glaring questions remain: Who is it that Paul’s critics prefer? And what kind of “people” are they?

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

What are “Dick Cheney people”? After receiving a standing ovation at CPAC, Cheney said, “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. When you consider the former vice president’s big-government track record, the idea of him telling conservatives what to do is as laughable as Tiger Woods giving marital advice. Yet loudly and with zero irony, the folks at CPAC cheered Cheney.

And we could go down the list of CPAC speakers: What are Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, or Tim Pawlenty “people”? What solid, tangible conservative platform are any of these people suggesting, beyond defeating Obama and the Democrats in 2010 and 2012? Is a return to Bush Republicanism really a desirable goal, as Romney and Cheney’s warm welcomes seemed to suggest? According to Rush Limbaugh, Paul’s straw-poll victory is a sign that CPAC simply wasn’t conservative this year. This begs the question, if Paul isn’t conservative, then who is “conservative,” Rush?

Ask yourself this: Since CPAC’s inception in 1973, what has actually been done to shrink the size of government? What about the last Republican administration gives anyone hope for a better, more conservative future?

When you boil it all down, those who complain about Ron Paul people only care about one thing: GOP victory. 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.

And then there are the so-called Ron Paul people. Paul’s CPAC speech was not simply an exercise in Democrat bashing. It was a lesson on how the GOP must finally deliver on the conservatism it has always promised. According to Paul, Republicans must finally show true fidelity to the Constitution. Paul asked the crowd to cast a critical eye upon the Right’s enthusiasm for wars that don’t make much sense and cost too much money and the party’s propensity for incurring massive debt. In short, Paul called for an end to big government — even the GOP form 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.

Often derided, the many young people who support Paul are the heart and soul of what has been dubbed the Ron Paul Revolution. And if their visible and vocal presence at CPAC was any indication, they are a force to be reckoned with.

I would expect Paul supporters to become even more visible and more vocal in the future. It will be impossible to silence a genuine movement driven by actual conservative passion, and not simply 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 that is serious about smaller government. And despite the constant media spin and gnashing of teeth, Ron Paul and his people’s onward march is not representative of some sort of confusion within the conservative movement — but the only conservative movement.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.