As the Republican Party at large continues to slog through its identity crisis, the Conservative Political Action Conference reconvened Thursday for its annual meeting in Washington. Now these angsty growing pains are on display in one place.
Who are we? What do we stand for? Those are some of the questions the GOP has been trying to answer since President Obama crushed Mitt “47%” Romney in the 2012 presidential election. Everyone from Sean Hannity to Bobby Jindal has been rehashing what went wrong and how to attract more voters in future elections. Most recently, former first lady Laura Bush weighed in on The Problem, and she didn’t mince words. Some candidates, she said, actually “frightened” female voters with their staunch conservative views.
“When these sorts of issues, in addition to objections to gay marriage, become the central issues of concern rather than dealing with the problems of a huge, bloated, intrusive government, then one can see why women as well as young people, gays, and others who are potential allies would be frightened by Republicans,” Edward Hudgins, director of advocacy at The Atlas Society, told MSNBC.com.
Congressman Eric Cantor, among other GOP establishment leaders, has been leading the charge back to the middle, softening rhetoric on issues like immigration and women’s rights issues to reach out to more voters. From the looks of the CPAC lineup, however, the cast of characters suggests otherwise.
Tea Party rising star Ted Cruz, the Dianne Feinstein-fighting and Ayn Rand-spouting new senator from Texas, received top billing as the event’s keynote speaker. Tim Murphy of Mother Jones summed up Cruz as “an amalgam of far-right dogmas—a Paulian distaste for international law; a Huckabee-esque strain of Christian conservatism; and a Perry-like reverence for the 10th Amendment, which he believes grants the states all powers not explicitly outlined in the Constitution while severely curtailing the federal government’s authority to infringe on them.” He’s all that, mixed with “a dose of Alex P. Keaton and a dash of Cold War nostalgia.”
The second biggest slot will go to former half-term governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, who is scheduled to speak for approximately 16 minutes. CPAC event organizers even gave more speaking time to reality show host Donald Trump than elected officials like Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum. Chris Christie, a Republican with very high approval ratings, didn’t snag an invite. The prominent Republican gay-rights group GOProud also got the cold shoulder.
“I suspect that the composition of the program in part reflects the fact that Republicans were political failures in the past election, losing not only in the presidential contest but also Senate seats in Missouri and Indiana that they might have won with candidates who didn’t trip over their social conservatism,” said Hudgins, a former CPAC speaker himself.
On Saturday evening, CPAC will offer a possible first look at possible 2016 contenders. The last three Republican presidential nominees–George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney–all finished at least first or second.
Romney, the candidate who faced the biggest identity crisis on the campaign trail recently, will give his first public speech since his election loss at CPAC. Last year at CPAC, Romney touted his “severely conservative” creds, looking for support from the Republican base. During the election cycle, “Moderate Mitt” swerved to the center. But it was a catch 22 with voters– either they were disappointed because he wasn’t conservative enough or they saw him as a robotic figure with no core. Look where that got him.