CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, has been making news with its proposed agenda and sponsors list for its upcoming conference next month. Unfortunately for the American Conservative Union (ACU), the group that organizes CPAC, the news has been all about who isn’t invited to the conference–namely the gay conservative group GOProud and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. In both instances it appears that the group is trying to set the parameters for which groups and individuals are welcome in the conservative movement, and which should be excluded.
The GOProud ban is nothing new for CPAC, as this is the second straight year that the group has been prohibited from participating in the conference as sponsors. In 2010 and 2011 GOProud were co-sponsors, but after a dust-up between ACU and other groups with more high level sponsorships, GOProud was dropped from any and all official CPAC events. National Review‘s Dan Foster has a great post arguing the group should be welcomed to the conference and, more broadly, into the movement. While Foster’s points are all well argued and valid, I would argue they are somewhat unnecessary. One conference’s decision has no bearing on GOProud’s membership in the conservative movement on the whole. GOProud’s exclusion from CPAC has given it an incredible amount of exposure and free publicity, raising its profile throughout the movement.
The decision not to invite Christie, especially in light of his headlining CPAC Chicago as recently as last summer, seems to be a purposeful statement on what the ACU sees as Christie’s role in the movement after the governor’s high-profile work with President Obama following Superstorm Sandy. Conservatives have been wincing every time the governor has spoken lately, whether by comparing himself to his Democratic New York counterpart Andrew Cuomo, or buckling on the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. Conservatives have legitimate concerns with the governor, but there are also valuable contributions that a Republican governor of a state as blue as New Jersey could make–for example, with regard to his work on school choice and education reform, which have both been instrumental in his record high approval ratings.
A year like this, in which the conservative movement debates its future in light of a stinging electoral loss, isn’t an appropriate time to dismiss popular figures and shrink an already defeated movement. It is not up to the ACU or any other group to determine who can maintain their conservative credentials. While the ACU may be trying to marginalize Christie and GOProud, they may be marginalizing themselves instead. Conservative commentator S.E. Cupp announced today that she would not be attending CPAC this year over the GOProud flap after liberal MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes did the same, which some conservatives, including NRO’s Foster, begrudgingly cheered. Many other conservatives, while perhaps still attending and speaking, are coming to the conclusion that the ongoing conversation on conservatism’s future may not be taking place at CPAC this year. If that’s the case, the ACU only has itself to blame.