Now that the Conservative Political Action Conference for 2014 has ended, it’s important that conservatives take a close look at how the annual event serves the cause, and to look ahead to the future in the battle for this country.
CPAC, after all is said and done, is a political conference, and as such will always have colorful attendees in costumes looking to draw attention to their issues. There will be a fair amount of Obama-bashing on policy, on the unfolding reality and tragedy of ObamaCare and the exploding national security and foreign policy failures in a world without American leadership. The left, after all, at their conferences attacks the right as they deem necessary as well. But what does CPAC hope to accomplish? How can it improve?
Now, CPAC is a private conference and has the right to admit or deny anyone it wants. The atheists have been sponsors before, but this time in meetings one of their key leaders announced they would drive the Christians out. That’s what led to their uninvited status, which was clarified on the record by Grover Norquist during a live broadcast on my Sirius XM Patriot radio show, and rightfully so. Debate is not feared, but a stated agenda of rude confrontation should not be tolerated. As conservatives, we welcome an open debate where we have disagreement within our ranks. We predominantly do not and should not march in lockstep, as we accuse Democrats and liberal progressives of doing. We cannot let the media distort the facts.
As to the Uninvited, an event for those not welcomed at CPAC held by conservative website Breitbart News and its executive chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, it troubles me a bit more that CPAC is limiting its audience in this way. No one gets what they want 100 percent and that is just a fact of life. Though it’s natural to want to be among those who are like-minded, the disaffected, the overzealous, the professional politico, the eager newbie and featured speakers positioning themselves for a presidential run all belong at CPAC and blend with the reality of an evolving conservative culture. A CPAC with a larger percentage of youth, women, ranges of age, ethnic diversity and diversity of thought gives me a sense of real hope for the conservative movement. Attendance of the conference cannot become a test of purity, and CPAC cannot become a means of exclusion to the conservative movement.
More important than messaging, however, is what happens at the conference. Headliners speaking at CPAC have become too much the focus. These speeches are needed, of course — the reality is that they are a draw for attendees — but the conference is supposed to be work in the name of the conservative cause. The conference could be held in two days instead of three, with more focus on work sessions and less on speeches. This conference could also be regionalized to allow more Americans to attend.
As to the annual straw poll, I cannot resist being blunt about this ongoing political idiocy. For 38 years the CPAC straw poll has been promoted as some form of measure that it is not. A straw poll is not a real poll. All a potential presidential candidate or national influencer has to do is gather the most supporters at the event and have them vote. The end results mean nothing because the methodology is nothing. Only two men, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, have won the straw poll and then gone on to become president. We cannot act as if it the poll has substantive effect on the national debate of the day.
Most important, though, is what happens after the conference is over. What happens when attendees leave the echo chamber of the conference is where the real work continues. The lessons learned, new ideas in early stage of development and relationships are all important intellectual and human factors in advancing conservatism after CPAC. And it is the responsibility of conservative activists and all to follow through.
Webb is host of “The David Webb Show” on SiriusXM Patriot 125, a Fox News contributor and has appeared frequently on television as a commentator. Webb co-founded TeaParty365 in New York City, and is a spokesman for the National Tea Party Federation. His column will appear twice a month in The Hill.