- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Last week, the American Conservative Union sponsored the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. The event, known as CPAC, is to conservatives what the Detroit Auto Show

is to gear heads: a harbinger of trends for the upcoming season. And while the majority of CPAC was formally focused on issues like reducing federal spending and debt, health care reform and foreign policy, the collective concern of the attendees was almost palpable: How can we overcome the fiscal irresponsibility in Washington, who will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, and will he defeat President Obama?

Ann Coulter made headlines when she offered her 2012 prediction with her signature candor: “If we don’t run Chris Christie, [Mitt] Romney will be the nominee, and we’ll lose.” In fairness, she was asked a question, and she gave an answer. But I believe we are too focused on the endgame. Perhaps a better use of our collective energy is to revisit our foundational principles, articulate solutions that will solve our most pressing national concerns and find candidates most in line with that vision.

America has real problems, but we are fortunate to have many leaders capable of identifying and addressing them. More importantly, we are blessed with an abundance of historical examples in which fiscal recklessness led to the demise of an otherwise strong society. It is disappointing that the current administration continues to avoid making difficult and necessary fiscal decisions. Further, the policies they have supported and passed will only make matters worse. Various Republican legislators, governors and leaders have correctly identified the current administration’s failure to heed the will of the American people.

Predicting the endgame was not the intention of CPAC. As appealing as forecasting races can be, focusing exclusively on individual candidates and not the principles they espouse is at odds with the nature of our republic. CPAC’s intention is to put forth solutions, based on conservative principles, that address the challenges we face. By way of comparison, the Democratic Party is the party of the collective. So it is fitting that the Democrats’ nominees depend on rhetoric and vague promises. The Republican Party is the party of the Constitution and the principles of our Founders. It is in light of those principles that we are fully able to evaluate the men and women who seek our support. Based on the dialogue present at CPAC, I am confident in the direction of the conservative movement, the Republican Party, and our nation.

In every forum at CPAC, whether the topic was fiscal reform, foreign policy, health care reform or even social issues, important principles governed: the God-given value of every man, woman and child; the nature of our Constitution, which maximizes the value of the citizen and limits the power of the elected official; the importance of private property and open commerce; and the mandate to champion these values around the world. So long as these principles guide our leaders, ours will remain the greatest nation in history. Failure to adhere to themwill lead to our demise.

Not surprisingly, in covering CPAC, many media outlets failed to report on the record attendance but instead made a concerted effort to portray a divided and splintering movement. The fact remains that the majority of Americans are fiscal and social conservatives. Democrats have long used identity politics in an attempt to promote their collective agenda, which grows the power of elected officials and government agencies. And we have the debt and deficits to show for it.

But falling for their trap and participating in the conservative reciprocal of identity politics is silly. We must stand on first principles and refuse the invitation made by the left and the media to lure us into this debate. Identity politics is a fool’s errand. It fosters unnecessary division and encourages specific groups to clamor for special treatment. It is in the best interests of neither individual groups nor our nation as a whole. Martin Luther King Jr. was famous for his insistence that no remedies exist for the American black population that do not also apply to all Americans. History is replete with evidence that true conservative solutions are in the best interests of all citizens. Any claim to the contrary defies logic and deliberately ignores historical fact.

While many are focused on the 2012 presidential election, we are best served to remember that political fortunes can change quickly. As recently as December 2007, Hillary Rodham Clinton was considered unbeatable for the Democratic nomination and Barack Obama was little-known and stood little chance.

Although there is no clear Republican nominee, I am optimistic about our prospects. The majority of Americans find themselves at odds with Mr. Obama’s policies and define themselves as conservatives. And while candidates prepare for their inevitable runs, the job of the conservative movement is to focus on our defining principles. Elections are simply job interviews conducted by the citizens. Now is the time for conservatives, whose collective majority status assures their power in hiring our nation’s next chief executive, to clearly articulate what is expected of our next president.

Brian H. Murphy was the Republican candidate for governor of Maryland in 2010 endorsed by Sarah Palin, and is the founder of the Plimhimmon Group, an investment firm.