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Believe it or not, the appearance of Donald Trump at CPAC was not the most surreal moment of my first day at the conference. That came later, but not by much.

In his second "surprise appearance" this week, the curiously coiffed real estate mogul, and "reality" TV star, was introduced as a "novelty speaker." (Which is even more curious than his coif, if you ask me.) He wasn't there to announce his candidacy, so much as to announce that he might announce in June.

Taking the stage to thunderous applause, Trump — without a hint of irony — to the rest of the world. (More applause.) He then proceeded to rattle off a number of obligatory-but-guaranteed-to-get-applause-from-the-Tea-Party lines. During which he made a promise that as president he would not raise taxes, but would raise tariffs on China instead. (Wish him luck on that, should he get the chance. The House passed a measure to do that in the last Congress, and it died in the Senate.)

No, the most surreal moment came when Trump had the temerity to speak truth to the Tea Party concerning the father of its new favorite son: Ron Paul.

Donald Trump angered supporters of Rep. Ron Paul at the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday when he said the Texas congressman, who is mulling another longshot presidential run, "honestly, he has just zero chance of getting elected."

What the Washington Times blog post above doesn't mention is that Trump was loudly booed by a sizeable part of the audience.

While Paul's young fans booed, a large portion of the crowd - surely growing impatient with Paul's continuing presence at CPAC (he won the straw poll last year) - rose to their feet and cheered Trump.

Trump was prompted to address Paul's chances of winning after some in the audience began cheering for Paul during Trump's speech.

(Another surreal moment came when both Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were booed by the younger set at CPAC. Rumsfeld was here to get and award, and Cheney to introduce him.)

It was surreal moment, yet one that — along with the GOP's trouble keeping the Tea Party contingent in line on the Patriot Act — illustrated the reality the GOP is facing.

Within 24 hours this week, House Speaker John Boehner's team had to pull a trade bill from the chamber floor, suffered an embarrassing setback on a USA Patriot Act vote, and failed to recoup money paid to the United Nations.

And in electoral politics, the tea party's threat to Republican incumbents came more into focus. Three GOP senators up for re-election in 2012 could be looking at challenges for their party nominations. One of them, five-term Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, crossed town Tuesday to tell the tea party's national town hall that he has supported its budget-balancing, smaller-government agenda for decades.

Democrats and Republicans said the events show that GOP leaders have yet to gauge the full extent of libertarianism and independence in their newly swollen ranks. Republicans gained control of the House thanks to sweeping victories last fall, many involving tea party loyalists.

"If they're divided on an issue like the Patriot Act, it's a bad omen for things to come regarding unity on their side," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. "It's only going to get tougher for them when it comes to budget issues."

And, as Van Hollen said, they haven't even gotten to budget issues yet. But, like that prototypical psycho ex-girlfriend from the movies, the Tea Party won't be ignored. But they'll continue making life difficult for the GOP establishment as long as they're around

Surreal as the moment was, Trump was just being real. Winning a CPAC straw poll is a long way from winning the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency.

But can Trump win? We'll have to wait until June to find out, because that's when the latest season of "The Apprentice" to wind down.


Oh, and no mention of a plan to create jobs was made by Trump. Understandable, for a guy who's most famous for saying "You're fired."

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