Monday, February 25, 2013

On CPAC, Christie, and GOProud

So it looks like Chris Christie, governor of my beloved Garden State, is being denied an invite to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this March.  What gives?

For a little background, CPAC is the biggest yearly gathering of conservatives—political leaders give speeches, conservative organizations raise awareness for their work in an exhibit hall, and there are people everywhere.  I mean, this thing is HUGE. The conference taken place within DC for decades, but it’s been moved to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland this year since no hotel in DC is big enough to hold it. How many people attend? More than 10,000.  

So, yeah, this 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.”  When this theme was first announced, I was initially excited, thinking that this meant that conservatives/Republicans were coming to realize that their message had not been working and so welcomed the infusion of young blood.

Well, then. Among the speakers this year are Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.  Yup, they’ve all spoken at CPAC in recent years. It’s good to see younger leaders like Marco Rubio, Kelly Ayotte, and Mia Love get speaking spots, but I don’t really get an overwhelming feeling of youth looking at this year’s agenda. Most of the speakers have made many an appearance at CPAC over the years.

Where is Christie, one of the most popular governors in the country? (Not one of the most popular Republican governor—one of the most popular governors regardless of party. He’s currently got a 74 percent approval rating, according to Quinnipiac.) The conventional wisdom is that his cordial relationship with President Obama regarding the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Well, let’s say that’s the reason why—that’s still not a valid reason for being less than welcome at CPAC. I’ve seen many a verbal altercation at CPAC—libertarians vs. social conservatives, neocons vs. isolationists, etc.—so it’s not like there haven’t been differences of opinion in the past.

Unfortunately, this Christie news 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—yes, I am old), only 28 percent supported it.  Young people are clearly shifting on this issue, but CPAC doesn’t seem to recognize that.

Back to Christie: 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.

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.  In my opinion, 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 believe the government should stay out of certain private decisions.

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