CPAC 2013: List Of Speakers Proves GOP Conference is Stuck in the Past


Chris Christie, the widely popular governor of New Jersey, will not be attending CPAC this year. The organizers of the annual event decided not to invite him because they believe that he has not been as reliably conservative as they would want him to be.

CPAC is an annual gathering of conservative activists and leaders. This is an important convention because it has been a forum where both established and up-and-coming leaders could articulate a political vision or introduce a political agenda. This year, the list of speakers is replete with marginal figures that have been on the political scene for years and those figures would not have a future in national politics. Hence, the convention is a vivid reminder that CPAC remains stuck in the past.

The Republican Party has been struggling to win the popular vote in the past twenty five years. In six consecutive elections, the party barely won the popular vote in only one election: the 2004 presidential election. This struggle is an indication that the policy agenda of the party fails to resonate with a growing number of voters.

Consequently, there is a growing recognition among many conservatives, at the very least, that the party needs to rebrand itself. After Mitt Romney’s defeat, Bobby Jindal has been telling conservatives that the party should "stop being the stupid party.” Although CPAC has billed its convention as an influential gathering of conservatives, it would not be participating in the rebranding of the party, at least not this year because of its inclusion and exclusion policy.

The list of included speakers has many of the usual suspects. For instance, Allen West, the one-term congressman, would address the convention. During his two-year in Congress, West was a conservative firebrand. He was also a darling of the Tea Party. He was not reluctant to use divisive language. For instance, in a stinging email to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee Chairwoman, West attacked her by using a number of epithets such as “vile,” “characterless,” “not a lady,” and even a “coward.” He went on to ask her to “shut the heck up.” In his electoral loss, West under-performed Mitt Romney whereas Patrick Murphy, his Democratic challenger, "outperformed" President Obama. Put it another way, many conservative voters chose to vote for his Democratic opponent, thereby helping elect him rather than voting to send West back to Congress.

CPAC once again extended an invitation to Sarah Palin. In 2008, after being placed on the Republican ticket by John McCain, Palin became an overnight sensation among conservatives. Although she still retains some hardcore followers, Palin’s influence on the party has waned considerably.  Even Fox News decided not to renew Palin’s contract with the network. As Matthew Dodd, who served as the chief strategist for George W. Bush reelection campaign, pointed out, Palin “wasn't even competent enough to hold down her job at Fox News.”

Last but not least, Mitt Romney, who got trounced in the presidential election, would be one of the convention’s headliners. Now, Romney could be accused of being many things. He could not, however, be accused of being a new face. Therein lies the problem. In the mind of most voters, particularly minorities, Romney embodies “47 percent,” “Swiss bank accounts,” and “self-deportation.” By having Romney as a featured speaker, CPAC not only is embracing Romney the man, but embracing everything that he stands for. 

Because of the many figures that would be addressing its convention, it is evident that CPAC is not interested in helping the Republican Party rebrands itself. While CPAC invited West, who failed to get the votes of many conservatives in his own district, Palin, whose politically career is practically over and Romney, whose candidacy was resoundingly rejected by the electorate, the organization decided not to invite Chris Christie, a popular governor in a deep blue state. This snub coupled with the invitation of the usual suspects clearly indicates that CPAC remains stuck in the past. In fact, many conservatives have come to the same, if not worse, conclusion about the organization.