CPAC 2013: A Little Farther and Further Afield This Year

Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md.
Gage Skidmore
Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md.

The Conservative Political Action Conference -- also known as CPAC -- was held at National Harbor in Maryland, just south of Washington, D.C., March 14 through 16, instead of the Washington Marriott Wardman Park near my Adams Morgan neighborhood where it was last year. That was a bit of downer, as I couldn’t simply walk into the conservative political lion’s den as I had last year.

I probably shouldn’t be writing about this although I don’t work for MSNBC nor am I a big fan of Bill Maher. But if liberal Democratic strategist Paul Begala and conservative pundit Tucker Carlson can spar more or less good naturedly in CPAC’s popular “Fight Night” event, I can’t resist making a few observations.

In this CPAC, the annual Washington Times Straw Poll—a sort of heated popularity contest for in-the-moment political prom king bragging rights among conservatives—seemed to matter only a little, adding as it did a little more luster to the suddenly red-hot conservative darling Rand Paul, the new senator from Kentucky, and son of eternally and perpetual Libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul. Rand finished ahead of youthful Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who only a few weeks ago was anointed the savior of the Republican Party in a Time Magazine cover. Although Pope Francis I is currently the cover boy of Time Magazine, don’t be surprised to see Rand on Time’s cover soon. This can be a mixed blessing, of course, somewhere between making the cover of Sports Illustrated and being Playmate of the Year. Look what happened to the first GOP hero of the year to make the Time cover, New Jersey GOP Governor Chris Christie, who not only did not receive a speaking offer from CPAC, but was the butt of a fat joke from still thin-and-mean pundit-author-of-many-many-books Ann Coulter, who also chose to call former President Bill Clinton a “forcible rapist” during her speech.

But I digress, which wasn’t difficult to do during the course of this three-day nearly love fest among conservatives, where defiance, quips, anti-Obama snarks and intramural spats were the order of the day. If you’re a conservative at a thing like this, it’s natural given today’s political climate—or as we call it around here, the eternal frost or the ice age—to express your disagreement with, defiance of, and outright contempt for President Barack Obama, and say things about him that you might not say about your worst enemy or Bill Maher or the North Korean ruler for life, as the ever popular, funny and zinger queen (sit down, Michele Bachman), Sarah Palin did when she called the president a liar in the manner of the infamous shout-out from a GOP congressman during a State of the Union address.

That happened often. But we were also treated to some rumblings in the ranks. Senator John McCain, who must by now feel like a GOP dinosaur or just sour, got so exasperated that he called Sen. Paul and fire-breathing Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, “wacko birds.” McCain later apologized and said “he respected them both.”

Social conservatives who passionately oppose gay marriage rights got a stinging surprise at the convention when Ohio Sen. Rob Portman who once shared their opposition said he was for it after his son came out. Both liberal and conservative pundits piled on.

Possible presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said that the GOP “can’t be seen as the anti-everything party” and urged for more inclusionary stances. In this crowd, that sounded almost liberal in tone.

At CPAC, the GOP and its conservative members seemed to return to its more intransigent stance of being in opposition—they liked Paul’s filibuster on drones not because they agreed with him but because he was defying the president—and they witnessed a bravura performance by former Alaska governor and McCain vice-presidential running mate Sarah Palin. There seemed to be an attitude that Obama and the Democrats shouldn’t actually act like they won the election and that the GOP should stop soul-searching why they night have lost the election. Sen. Cruz said it was not a failure of conservative principles. More and more, the most conservative members there—and they were all there—acted as if an electoral anomaly had occurred (twice), some sort of glitch in the body politic that didn’t need addressing.

Palin was her usual dry, acerbic, one-liner self now that her daughter’s career on “Dancing with the Stars” appears to be at an end. A standup comedy career is an option. Witness her attack on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's anti-"Big Gulp" campaign. She also took on Karl Rove, once considered the devil by liberals, but now, apparently, a target for the conservative wing of the party, after he questioned some of the tactics of ultra-conservatives.

If the atmosphere at the CPAC was an indicator—and, like polls, they rarely predict the political future so early on—the cold war between the administration and the House of Representatives, between the Republicans and the Democrats, and, between Republicans and Republicans, is bound to heat up. Nobody wins, except Mr. Stalemate, and maybe the future of the country.

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Tue, 29 Jul 2014 22:59:34 -0400

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