America’s biggest right-wing teach-in/gabfest/fireworks show kicks off Thursday when the annual Conservative Political Action Conference convenes, 40 years after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, the Supreme Court issued Roe v. Wade and CPAC was born.
From its humble beginnings when 125 huddled conservative activists, yearning, they said, to breathe free, first gathered, CPAC has become a top draw with a turnout no liberal organization can match.
More than 8,000 activists are expected at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center along the Potomac in the Maryland suburbs over the next three days, filling the 3,500-capacity main ballroom and 15 meeting rooms — some seating as many as 500 people — to cheer or jeer a lineup of some 60 movers and shakers from the conservative movement.
The purpose, said American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas, is to provide a forum for attendees to listen, learn and argue as they plumb the depths of conservative philosophy in pursuit of ways to slay the dragon of national debt, confront threats to individual liberty and restore America’s stature in the world.
Speakers for the 2013 gathering once again include a galaxy of conservatism’s brightest stars who are household epithets among liberals, including such figures as Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas; GOP Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana; National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre; and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.
COVERAGE: CPAC 2021 - Latest news from the Conservative Political Action Conference
At the same time, 32 different panel discussions will feature 169 panelists who will conduct 32 sessions on topics ranging from “Should We Shoot All the Consultants?” to “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Plastic Water Bottles, Fracking, Genetically Modified Food and Big Gulp Sodas.”
One panel, called “Ten Under 40,” features young elected politicians and is designed to spotlight what organizers say is a promising rising generation of conservative figures.
Organizers even came up with “The Walking Dead: Obama Zombies on Parade,” a speed-networking, dance-until-you drop party for the younger-than-30 crowd — timed to take place Friday evening in competition with the traditional CPAC awards banquet. Organizers say every attendee will get an aim-and-click electronic “mingle fob” to exchange contact information for speed-networking.
“Every year, thousands of college students and 20-something future conservative power players gather with few ways to connect outside shouted phone numbers and overcrowded, late-night, impromptu hotel-room parties,” said conference board member Paul Erickson.
Of the simultaneous zombie event and the awards event, Mr. Erickson joked, “After three hours of each, only medical doctors will be able to decide who is more ‘undead.’”
CPAC this year will also feature another tradition: battles over who should be on the agenda and who doesn’t deserve a place at the conservative table. Among those not expected at the Gaylord this week are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
(CORRECTION: An analysis of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Thursday’s editions of the Times inaccurately attributed a quote to Ronald Reagan biographer Craig Shirley. Mr. Shirley has been critical of CPAC’s invite to former Gov. Jeb Bush to speak, but Mr. Shirley did not say: “You can’t be a conservative and a Bush at the same time.”)
And though mostly subsurface, there will be the usual tension between religious and secular conservatives over abortion, same-sex marriage and military interventionism abroad — and now, apparently, at home.
CPAC throngs suffering from extreme debt-phobia — common to the religious, not-so-religious and unapologetically nonreligious at past conferences — will find little relief at this one. Speakers and panelists promise to remind them of the nation’s suicidal $17 trillion debt that amounts to $54,940 for every man, woman and child in America.
Traditional conservatives who say they’re fed up with the war-hawkish neoconservatism of Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham can’t wait to remind both men that 1945 was the last time the United States actually won a war outright — and that wars to change regime abroad may express the hubris America’s founders warned against. The McCain-Graham side will fire back that underestimating the threat of radical Islam is to travel the road to Caliphate serfdom.
Then there’s the controversy over the conference’s board of directors banning GOProud, a gay group accused of public rudeness toward an opponent of same-sex marriage. But CPAC organizers say Adam Smith acolytes of all sexual persuasions will, as at previous conferences, stand shoulder to shoulder in search of the holy grail of politically survivable, hundred-billion-dollar spending cuts.
Though privately not very much enamored with each other, many secular conservatives will join religious rightists to cheer incremental progress — such as Arkansas’ second-trimester abortion ban — in the 40-year war against legalized abortion. And while still committed to outlawing abortion, many pro-life CPAC activists “now are co-belligerents with those on the pro-choice side who also want to reduce abortions,” said longtime publicist Larry Ross, whose clients included Billy Graham.
In downtown Dallas, Reunion Church Pastor Richard Ellis says young evangelicals are more accepting of gay marriage than their parents but more adamantly opposed to abortion. “Sonograms have been around as long as these young Christians have been alive, and so they grew up seeing that the baby in the womb is just that — a human baby,” he said.
His view is a few degrees off from that of activist Marissa Cope.
“My generation has grown up with access to ultrasound technology that connects us to life in the womb, and we have also had regular, personal interactions with people who are homosexual, whether friends or acquaintances,” said Ms. Cope, the marketing director of the pro-life Heroic Media in Dallas. “Both have had a humanizing and normalizing effect on our outlook.
“As Christians, we are called to see and value all life, the unborn child as well as the people around us, regardless of their sexuality,” she said. “On the abortion issue, I think we have figured out how to be firm in our convictions while offering compassion and real help to women facing unplanned pregnancies.”
“Forty years after CPAC’s founding, the Roe v. Wade decision and the end of our involvement in the Vietnam War, we still have this conference along with moral wariness and war weariness,” said 60 Plus Association President Amy Noone Frederick. “We will know more about each after the last speech on Saturday, but I can promise you all three will still be with us.”