Commentary Magazine


Topic: CPAC

Does Rand’s GOP Think NSA is the Enemy?

In a week in which Americans were reminded that Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney were right and President Obama was wrong about Russia being the primary geo-strategic threat to their country, Senator Rand Paul brought a different perspective on the world to the CPAC conference today. Coming as it did after days of speeches from other conservatives that centered on Obama’s weakness in the face of international terror and Russian aggression as well as concerns about social issues and economic and the need to address the concerns of working people and the poor, Paul changed the subject. In his speech, the Kentucky senator centered on one subject: the threat to civil liberties from an intrusive government. In Rand Paul’s world al-Qaeda and Vladimir Putin are mere annoyances; the real foe is the National Security Agency and its metadata mining.

There are two conclusions can be drawn from this speech that was cheered to the echo by the audience at CPAC. One is that if CPAC activists are a representative sample of the grass roots of the Republican Party (a debatable but not outlandish assumption), there’s little question that Paul has a leg up on the 2016 presidential race. The other is that if those cheers mean that if it’s Rand’s GOP then it is a party with little chance to win in two years no matter what happens in November 2014. As much as Paul’s soaring rhetoric about liberty resonates with the party’s base — and indeed with most Republicans — his obsessive antagonism to national security issues and disinterest in a strong American foreign policy is likely to help doom the GOP to permanent minority status.

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In a week in which Americans were reminded that Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney were right and President Obama was wrong about Russia being the primary geo-strategic threat to their country, Senator Rand Paul brought a different perspective on the world to the CPAC conference today. Coming as it did after days of speeches from other conservatives that centered on Obama’s weakness in the face of international terror and Russian aggression as well as concerns about social issues and economic and the need to address the concerns of working people and the poor, Paul changed the subject. In his speech, the Kentucky senator centered on one subject: the threat to civil liberties from an intrusive government. In Rand Paul’s world al-Qaeda and Vladimir Putin are mere annoyances; the real foe is the National Security Agency and its metadata mining.

There are two conclusions can be drawn from this speech that was cheered to the echo by the audience at CPAC. One is that if CPAC activists are a representative sample of the grass roots of the Republican Party (a debatable but not outlandish assumption), there’s little question that Paul has a leg up on the 2016 presidential race. The other is that if those cheers mean that if it’s Rand’s GOP then it is a party with little chance to win in two years no matter what happens in November 2014. As much as Paul’s soaring rhetoric about liberty resonates with the party’s base — and indeed with most Republicans — his obsessive antagonism to national security issues and disinterest in a strong American foreign policy is likely to help doom the GOP to permanent minority status.

It should be conceded that Paul’s absolutist view of the Fourth Amendment is popular with a lot of Americans who rightly worry about an intrusive big government. That cynicism about the all-powerful state is exacerbated by President Obama’s unconstitutional power grabs on health care, selective enforcement of laws, an out-of-control IRS and spying on the press. His views also resonate with conservatives who like his rhetoric about the party being true to its principles rather than moderating itself in what seems like a vain quest for mainstream approval.

The defense of freedom must always be America’s priority. But what he seems to forget is that the primary element of that defense are not lawsuits against the National Security Agency or paranoia about drone attacks on law-abiding Americans sitting in Starbucks. It requires a strong national defense rather than one gutted by Obama’s cuts that Paul doesn’t seem very upset about. And it also must be based on a robust foreign policy rooted in an understanding that international threats can’t be ignored or wished away by isolationist rhetoric.

The problem with Rand’s vision of the GOP isn’t that Americans think foreign policy is their top concern. That isn’t true even in a week in which foreign news is leading the headlines thanking to Putin’s aggression in the Ukraine. But most Americans know that, for all of their cynicism about government, treating the NSA as the boogeyman is no substitute for an approach for dealing with the world. If Republicans head into the fall of 2016 with Paul as their champion against Hillary Clinton, it will be the author of the comical “reset” with Russia and the person who asked “does it really matter?” about Benghazi that will be seen as the one with the credentials on foreign policy, not the nominee of the party of Ronald Reagan.

Paul’s extreme libertarianism and anti-war approach does offer the GOP a chance to win some votes on the left that will see his foreign policy as indistinguishable from that of liberal Democrats. But it will also concede the vast center of American politics to the Democrats while doing little to bridge the gap with women and minority voters that doomed Mitt Romney in 2012. Conservatives are right to think the GOP must be true to its principles in order to win. Rand’s base has also expanded from the extremists he inherited from his father. But Paul’s foreign policy is not consistent with the traditional Republican attitude toward national defense and it will lose the party votes it can’t make up elsewhere.

A year after his drone filibuster that made him a star, Paul is still basking in the applause from a conservative following that has come to view all government programs — not just the welfare state but national defense too — as the enemy. As other potential front-runners have faltered there is no denying that he is ahead of most of his would-be 2016 competitors. But today’s speech is a reminder to Republicans that a commitment to his agenda could leave them looking foolish when events and the will of the voters obligate them to put forward a view of the world that takes into account America’s real enemies as well as the imperative to fund a viable national defense.

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Foreign Policy is Back and So Is Rubio

The year 2013 was not a good one for Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential ambitions. As I noted in January, it was annus horribillis for Rubio as he went from being seen as the perfect prototype of the Republican of the future to being scorned as a RINO by many of his former Tea Party supporters for his efforts on behalf of immigration reform and being overshadowed on security issues by the rise of Rand Paul and the isolationist wing of his party. But Rubio make a strong start in 2014 with an eloquent address at the Capitol on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty that rightly sought to lead the GOP toward a new approach to the welfare state that sought to make the Republicans once again the party of ideas. But Rubio’s greatest strength has always been foreign policy. With the Russian seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine refocusing the public of the vital importance of America’s standing in the world, Rubio seems to have not only rediscovered the confidence that he seemed to lack at times last year but reminded a lot of Republicans of the reasons he was on everyone’s short list for president at the start of 2013.

While there’s no telling whether the senator will run in 2016 or if he can succeed if he does, Rubio’s speech to the CPAC Conference today in Washington showcased the senator’s strengths. In a speech that including many of his traditional stump remarks about his immigrant parents and the American dream, Rubio made the best case against the sort of retreat from engagement with the world that Rand Paul has championed that conservatives have heard in a long time. In a political atmosphere in which the sole foreign policy concerns of Republicans was the Obama administration’s violations of civil liberties and trashing of the Constitution it was possible for Paul to dominate the GOP. But now that Russia’s aggression has put foreign policy back on the front burner with most Republicans agreeing that the trouble is due to President Obama’s weak leadership and lack of faith in American principles, Rubio seems to be back as well.

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The year 2013 was not a good one for Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential ambitions. As I noted in January, it was annus horribillis for Rubio as he went from being seen as the perfect prototype of the Republican of the future to being scorned as a RINO by many of his former Tea Party supporters for his efforts on behalf of immigration reform and being overshadowed on security issues by the rise of Rand Paul and the isolationist wing of his party. But Rubio make a strong start in 2014 with an eloquent address at the Capitol on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty that rightly sought to lead the GOP toward a new approach to the welfare state that sought to make the Republicans once again the party of ideas. But Rubio’s greatest strength has always been foreign policy. With the Russian seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine refocusing the public of the vital importance of America’s standing in the world, Rubio seems to have not only rediscovered the confidence that he seemed to lack at times last year but reminded a lot of Republicans of the reasons he was on everyone’s short list for president at the start of 2013.

While there’s no telling whether the senator will run in 2016 or if he can succeed if he does, Rubio’s speech to the CPAC Conference today in Washington showcased the senator’s strengths. In a speech that including many of his traditional stump remarks about his immigrant parents and the American dream, Rubio made the best case against the sort of retreat from engagement with the world that Rand Paul has championed that conservatives have heard in a long time. In a political atmosphere in which the sole foreign policy concerns of Republicans was the Obama administration’s violations of civil liberties and trashing of the Constitution it was possible for Paul to dominate the GOP. But now that Russia’s aggression has put foreign policy back on the front burner with most Republicans agreeing that the trouble is due to President Obama’s weak leadership and lack of faith in American principles, Rubio seems to be back as well.

It’s likely that many on the right will never forgive Rubio for his support of a bipartisan compromise immigration bill last year. Though the bill passed the Senate with the support of a substantial minority of Republicans, it was dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled House and Rubio bore the brunt of much of the resentment of the party’s grass roots activists for backing a bill that granted a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal aliens in the country. The depth of this opposition as well as the intemperate and often biased language used by some on the right has embittered many Hispanics and created a long-term problem for Republicans. Rubio hasn’t backtracked on his support for the original bill but he understands there is no persuading his party’s base on the issue and didn’t even mention it in his speech today.

But while that conflict has permanently alienated many Tea Partiers who formed the base of his successful 2010 primary challenge to once (and perhaps future) Florida Governor Charlie Crist, the outcomes of elections are as much about the defining issues of the moment as they are about personalities. If, after years of being dominated by discussions of taxes, spending, ObamaCare and immigration, the Republican public square returns to some of its traditional focus on foreign policy, there’s no denying that Rubio’s ability to articulate a Reaganite stance on engagement with the world and defense returns him to the front rank of GOP leaders.

Speaking today about how Obama’s weakness on China, Iran and North Korea has led inevitably to disasters in Syria and Ukraine, Rubio sounded a clarion call for conservatives to stand up for a strong America by telling his audience that “only one nation can stand up to totalitarianism.”

We have a president who believes that by the sheer force of his personality he could be able to shape global events. We have a president that believes that by going around the world and giving key speeches in key places, he can shape the behavior of other nations. We do not have the luxury of seeing the world the way we hope it would be. We have to see the world the way it is.

Paul’s neo-isolationism has expanded its appeal beyond the libertarian base inherited from his father because of the cynicism about government that Obama’s extra-Constitutional behavior has bred in conservatives. But Rubio’s appeal for a foreign policy rooted in support for core American principles is one that still resonates with most Republicans. At a time when the administration is gutting defense and retreating in the face of foreign tyrants, the pendulum may be swinging back toward the pro-defense wing of the party.

To note this is not the same thing as assuming that Rubio will be moving back to the front rank of his party’s presidential contenders. But if he is interested in running in 2016, those who assume that immigration has doomed his chances forever may be wrong. If, thanks to Putin, Iran and Obama’s blunders, a strong stance on foreign affairs is again a prerequisite for winning the Republican nomination, Rubio will have a fighting chance.

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Rand Paul, Gary Johnson, and Libertarians in the GOP

Rand Paul’s filibuster has already taken on legendary status and been championed as a libertarian challenge to the Republican Party’s conservative establishment. But what is often ignored is how much of a challenge it was to Paul’s own libertarian following. Paul’s triumph was by its own success also a keen declaration of libertarian failure. To understand why, you’d have to have noticed a tweet in support of Paul that came at nearly 9 p.m., toward the tail end of the filibuster. Using the #StandWithRand hashtag, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson tweeted the following:

garyjohnson

Johnson has close to 117,000 Twitter followers, and that tweet was retweeted almost 3,000 times. Yet I wonder how many noticed the irony. Johnson’s Twitter biography reads: “I am the Honorary Chairman of the Our America Initiative, two-term Governor of New Mexico, and was the 2012 Libertarian candidate for President.” It is that last part that tells the story of how Rand Paul is changing conservative politics.

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Rand Paul’s filibuster has already taken on legendary status and been championed as a libertarian challenge to the Republican Party’s conservative establishment. But what is often ignored is how much of a challenge it was to Paul’s own libertarian following. Paul’s triumph was by its own success also a keen declaration of libertarian failure. To understand why, you’d have to have noticed a tweet in support of Paul that came at nearly 9 p.m., toward the tail end of the filibuster. Using the #StandWithRand hashtag, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson tweeted the following:

garyjohnson

Johnson has close to 117,000 Twitter followers, and that tweet was retweeted almost 3,000 times. Yet I wonder how many noticed the irony. Johnson’s Twitter biography reads: “I am the Honorary Chairman of the Our America Initiative, two-term Governor of New Mexico, and was the 2012 Libertarian candidate for President.” It is that last part that tells the story of how Rand Paul is changing conservative politics.

Johnson ran as a third-party candidate for president, against the GOP after first attempting to win the GOP nomination and being generally ignored. But Johnson had another option in 2012: instead of running for president as a third party to take away votes from the Republican ticket, he could have run for Senate in his home state of New Mexico. Johnson was a popular two-term governor of the state and there was an open seat in the 2012 elections, which the Democratic candidate won. In 2011, Johnson was asked by a libertarian blogger why he wouldn’t consider running for the Senate seat. Here is that blogger’s write-up of the response:

Gary told me he would not consider making a Senate bid because he considers the role of Senators to “shoulder up to the trough” and bring home money to their constituents. He says they’re part of the problem, and that he doesn’t think he can make a difference in that position like he could as president.

Paul effectively proved him wrong. Johnson is marginalized now instead of possibly having been able to join Paul in his filibuster from the Senate floor. Not only is Paul a leading libertarian voice in the Senate on an array of issues on which he doesn’t hesitate to challenge party leadership, but he is also considered a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. That is, it would not be shocking for this libertarian contrarian to be crowned as the Republican Party’s standard-bearer three years from now.

Working within the GOP is the surest way for libertarians to influence national policy and politics. That may sound obvious–and it should. The GOP may not have a spotless record on libertarian issues, but of the two major parties it is the only place for someone like Rand Paul, who is a pro-life libertarian. Liberals consider such a politician to be at once a raging theocrat and Ayn Randian anarchist-lite. Rand Paul’s very existence is a source of horror and confusion to most Democrats. And a Senator Gary Johnson would have been justly welcomed by the national GOP. Indeed, Johnson’s–and other libertarians’–insistence on the White House as the only path to power in American politics shows he has fallen prey to what libertarians themselves rightly call the “cult of the presidency.”

Just before November’s presidential election, libertarian Randy Barnett wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the creation of the Libertarian Party was a mistake. He made the correct point that Libertarian Party voters only make it more likely that a Democrat will be elected, and that since the Republicans have more in common with libertarians, the latter’s success will mean pro-libertarian policies become less likely. I find idealism, especially in Washington, to be an often-admirable antidote to modern political cynicism, but libertarians of all people should have a handle on the real-world unintended consequences of quixotic political action.

In his latest column, James Antle points out the extent to which attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference–not necessarily representative of the GOP overall but certainly a barometer of grassroots enthusiasm–agreed with Rand Paul on a whole host of issues. Paul seems to have reminded libertarians of a basic rule of politics: you can, and must, win the argument. Antle makes a key point when he writes:

It’s easy to see how this libertarian moment could be undone: elect a sufficiently hawkish Republican president and much of this sentiment on the right could recede. It’s also possible that this wing of the party tries to rise too fast for its own good. If Justin Amash were to run for Michigan’s open Senate seat next year and lose, followed by Rand Paul pushing forward with a competitive but unsuccessful presidential campaign rather than running for senate reelection in 2016, the movement could be without its two most prominent elected leaders.

There still may be a ceiling over the heads of libertarians in the GOP, which is staunchly pro-life and generally socially conservative, not to mention more hawkish on foreign affairs than Rand Paul (and much more so than his father’s legion of followers). That’s to the GOP’s credit. But if libertarians want influence in the party and on the national stage, they’ll need to work to elect libertarian voices to offices besides the presidency. Just ask Gary Johnson.

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Who Speaks for the GOP Base?

The CPAC conference has come in for a lot of justified criticism about excluding popular Republicans like Governors Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell. The annual right-wing jamboree is being trashed in the mainstream media as the living, breathing example of why the GOP loses elections since it is oriented toward ideological activists rather than expanding the party’s big tent. But such jibes miss the point about the event. It is by and for the party’s base, not independents, and like any similar gathering of liberal Democrats the response of participants to speakers is a fair measure of what will fire up the people who will do the groundwork in any future election. While the Republicans need to work at recasting their image if they are to win the White House again, no party can succeed without being able to energize their core supporters.

That’s why one shouldn’t dismiss the cheers received today at CPAC by two of the leading contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination as mere noise. Both Marco Rubio and Rand Paul were in good form, articulating some of their favorite themes to the faithful. But while Rubio’s speech seemed aimed exactly at those swing voters, or at least those who might be persuaded to back a presentable Republican, Paul’s remarks—like his filibuster earlier this month—seemed geared more toward winning over the people who vote in Republican primaries. While Rubio’s speech was on point and well received, there isn’t much doubt about who is the senator that can best be described as the GOP flavor of the month.

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The CPAC conference has come in for a lot of justified criticism about excluding popular Republicans like Governors Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell. The annual right-wing jamboree is being trashed in the mainstream media as the living, breathing example of why the GOP loses elections since it is oriented toward ideological activists rather than expanding the party’s big tent. But such jibes miss the point about the event. It is by and for the party’s base, not independents, and like any similar gathering of liberal Democrats the response of participants to speakers is a fair measure of what will fire up the people who will do the groundwork in any future election. While the Republicans need to work at recasting their image if they are to win the White House again, no party can succeed without being able to energize their core supporters.

That’s why one shouldn’t dismiss the cheers received today at CPAC by two of the leading contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination as mere noise. Both Marco Rubio and Rand Paul were in good form, articulating some of their favorite themes to the faithful. But while Rubio’s speech seemed aimed exactly at those swing voters, or at least those who might be persuaded to back a presentable Republican, Paul’s remarks—like his filibuster earlier this month—seemed geared more toward winning over the people who vote in Republican primaries. While Rubio’s speech was on point and well received, there isn’t much doubt about who is the senator that can best be described as the GOP flavor of the month.

Rubio’s CPAC address seemed very much like a rehash of his response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech with an extended appeal to the concerns of the middle class. Along with the now obligatory jokes about drinking water (which are getting a little tired), Rubio scored by pointing out that the working poor aren’t freeloaders or natural liberals. His rhetorical point that the old GOP ideas about freedom don’t need revising was both true and appealed to the best instincts of conservatives.

Rubio burnished his conservative bona fides while also demonstrating his mainstream appeal, but Paul’s speech showed that he knows how to throw red meat to a crowd that is starving for a leader who will directly confront President Obama and the liberals. From its start, it was a challenge to the president and seemed more like an audition for a caucus or primary audience than a conference address. Sounding the same themes that made his filibuster such a hit, Paul seems to have hit a nerve with conservatives who are tired of compromise and long for someone to stand up against the pull of big government. Republicans of all ages, and not just the kids in college dorms, also like his calling out the party leadership as being “stale and moss-covered.” By combining his libertarian domestic agenda with an attack on foreign aid to countries like Egypt and the mythical threat of domestic drone strikes, he has also managed to make his outlier views on foreign policy seem mainstream. It lacked everything but an open declaration of his candidacy and, as reports indicate, the professionally-made “Stand With Rand” signs show that he is already in full campaign mode.

As Paul’s father Ron knows all too well, winning the CPAC straw poll is no guarantee of winning the White House. But it is a start. Comparing any of the other potential contenders to Paul at this point is unfair since he is obviously committed to a run while the others, included Rubio and Christie, seem nowhere close to a decision as to whether to throw their hats in the ring. But it would be folly for any Republican—especially the large number of conservatives who disagree strongly with Paul’s neo-isolationist approach to foreign policy—to ignore the fact that he seems to have a leg up on everyone else in the long slog toward 2016.

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The CPAC Clown Act

Just to get this straight, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has not invited Bob McDonnell or Chris Christie–two popular and accomplished governors–to their annual gathering. It seems they are viewed as insufficiently pure when it comes to holding high the torch of conservatism. But CPAC did announce that Donald Trump—real estate mogul, television reality show producer, and America’s most prominent birther—has received a slot to speak.

“Donald Trump is an American patriot and success story with a massive following among small government conservatives,” American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas said in a press release. (The ACU is the host of CPAC). “I look forward to welcoming him back to the CPAC stage next week. Mr. Trump’s previous CPAC appearance was hugely popular among our attendees and we expect it will be even more popular this year.”

I don’t doubt that Mr. Trump will be popular with the crowd, since clown acts often are. Just for the record, though: Trump has advocated a single-payer health care system (which even ObamaCare doesn’t give us), called for massive tax increases, favored abortion rights, and revealed himself to be hyper-protectionist. Trump has also donated more money to Democrats than Republicans in recent years and was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2008, when the Democratic Party was dominated by liberals. On top of that, Mr. Trump is vulgar, shallow, narcissistic, buffoonish, and has a fondness for conspiracy theories.

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Just to get this straight, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has not invited Bob McDonnell or Chris Christie–two popular and accomplished governors–to their annual gathering. It seems they are viewed as insufficiently pure when it comes to holding high the torch of conservatism. But CPAC did announce that Donald Trump—real estate mogul, television reality show producer, and America’s most prominent birther—has received a slot to speak.

“Donald Trump is an American patriot and success story with a massive following among small government conservatives,” American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas said in a press release. (The ACU is the host of CPAC). “I look forward to welcoming him back to the CPAC stage next week. Mr. Trump’s previous CPAC appearance was hugely popular among our attendees and we expect it will be even more popular this year.”

I don’t doubt that Mr. Trump will be popular with the crowd, since clown acts often are. Just for the record, though: Trump has advocated a single-payer health care system (which even ObamaCare doesn’t give us), called for massive tax increases, favored abortion rights, and revealed himself to be hyper-protectionist. Trump has also donated more money to Democrats than Republicans in recent years and was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2008, when the Democratic Party was dominated by liberals. On top of that, Mr. Trump is vulgar, shallow, narcissistic, buffoonish, and has a fondness for conspiracy theories.

Apparently this combination of traits is enough to warrant an invitation to the Conservative Political Action Conference.

This is obviously a stunt, meant to generate attention to the CPAC event. We all get that. The problem is that in the process, conservatism itself will be harmed, since is will confirm pre-existing caricatures and stereotypes about conservatives. 

For those who actually care about conservatism and who take seriously its intellectual and moral tradition, what CPAC is doing is unfortunate and destructive, and I hope someone at the conference says so. (A Sister Souljah moment, anyone?)

Mr. Trump will garner much attention, the left and the press will have a field day, and the public will watch all of this unfold and simply shake their head at the childishness and unseriousness of it all.

Well done, CPAC. Well done.

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CPAC Adds Christie to Its “No” List

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. 

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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.

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CPAC Offers Netanyahu Speaking Slot

The Conservative Political Action Conference released its second round of invited speakers today, and there’s a surprising name near the top of the list. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited, along with Canadian PM Stephen Harper.

Netanyahu actually spoke at CPAC back in 2001, as Phil Klein pointed out on Twitter. But that was in between premierships, which is a very different case. While Netanyahu will probably already be in Washington for AIPAC’s Policy Conference the week before, and it would be great to see him speak at CPAC, there’s no way it will actually happen. It would be silly for him to attend now, right after being accused of siding with the Mitt Romney campaign and while he still needs to maintain a veneer of cordial relations with President Obama.

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The Conservative Political Action Conference released its second round of invited speakers today, and there’s a surprising name near the top of the list. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited, along with Canadian PM Stephen Harper.

Netanyahu actually spoke at CPAC back in 2001, as Phil Klein pointed out on Twitter. But that was in between premierships, which is a very different case. While Netanyahu will probably already be in Washington for AIPAC’s Policy Conference the week before, and it would be great to see him speak at CPAC, there’s no way it will actually happen. It would be silly for him to attend now, right after being accused of siding with the Mitt Romney campaign and while he still needs to maintain a veneer of cordial relations with President Obama.

The invite itself is interesting, though. First, it’s another example of how support for Israel has become ingrained as a conservative value issue. And second, it’s a subtle snub against the libertarian and paleoconservative anti-Israel and anti-war activists who have tried unsuccessfully to hijack CPAC for the last several years–including jeering Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld as “war criminals” in 2011. I can only imagine the reception Netanyahu would get from this small but vocal group of hecklers, so CPAC is brave extending the invite, even if the Israeli PM is unlikely to accept.

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