March 13 2013

CPAC: Who’s In, Who’s Out, and Why That Matters

Jennifer Marsico

 

With recent revelations about the Conservative Political Action Conference’s (CPAC) list of speakers this year, Democrats and progressives must have big smiles on their faces. 

Apparently, Donald Trump will speak to the gathering this Friday.  But while Trump scored an invite, neither Chris Christie nor Bob McDonnell will be speaking at an official ACU CPAC event (McDonnell will be speaking at an unofficial breakfast event, and Christie will not appear at all).

What gives?

CPAC is a major platform for conservative/Republican politicians, and those who speak there tend to speak for the conservative movement.  This year’s theme is “America’s Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives. New Challenges, Timeless Principles.” 

But then where is Christie, one of the most popular governors in the country? (Not one of the most popular Republican governors—one of the most popular governors regardless of party. He’s currently got a 74 percent approval rating, according to Quinnipiac.) A CPAC insider told National Review Online that Christie was not invited because he has a “limited future” with the Republican Party (even though many wished he’d been the party’s presidential nominee less than a year ago).  However, the conventional wisdom is that the real reason for CPAC’s denial of Christie was praise for President Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy last fall.

It’s clear that the many young conservatives who attend CPAC would love to see him speak.  I could point to the fact that he is blunt and charismatic, but let’s have the public opinion numbers speak for themselves.  In the same Quinnipiac poll I noted above, Christie’s approval among voters aged 18 to 34 stands at 53 percent.  That’s among all young voters—not just Republicans.  He would be treated like a rock star at CPAC, and again, I just can’t see why he wouldn’t score an invite.

The McDonnell semi-snub is even harder to understand. He is the current chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association, so the “limited future” argument really doesn’t work here. It appears instead that McDonnell did not get an official invite this year because he supports “a state road funding package that included tax increases Democrats wanted and general fund revenue shifts Republicans favored.”  The message being sent here is that compromise is akin to apostasy.

Unfortunately, the news about Christie and McDonnell is consistent with the direction CPAC’s been going over the last couple of years: rather than welcoming those of varying viewpoints into the conservative fold, CPAC has been limiting their access.  The most well-known example is the exclusion of GOProud, a gay conservative group, as a co-sponsor of the conference.  GOProud is fiscally conservative, pro-life, and believes that the question of gay marriage should be left to the states. Hmm.  Sounds like many of the conservatives I know!

I just don’t see any good reason why GOProud should be shut out of CPAC.  In fact, if CPAC’s goal this year is to get young conservatives and Republicans more active and more represented, it’s actually counterintuitive to keep the group out. A 2012 Pew poll showed that nearly 4 in 10 Republicans between the ages of 18 and 29 support same-sex marriage.  Eight years ago (back around the time when I first attended CPAC), only 28 percent supported it.  Young people are clearly shifting on this issue, but CPAC doesn’t seem to recognize that.

With major national and statewide Republican losses just in the rear view mirror, and with the waning influence of the Tea Party, this would really be a great time to make the conservative tent bigger, as Carrie Lukas argued earlier this week.  Sharing the “timeless principles” of conservatism doesn’t mean that the biggest conservative gathering of the year should exclude those who have complimented the President for helping his own constituents, or those who have tried to seek compromise, or those who believe the government should stay out of certain private decisions.

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