In two short weekends, the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), hosted by the American Conservative Union, will convene in Washington, D.C., from March 14-16 at the Gaylord Resort and National Convention Center.
Taking place in D.C. each year since 1973, "CPAC educates, brings together and energies thousands of attendees and all of the leading conservative organizations and speakers who impact conservative thought in the nation." In 1974, then-Governor Ronald Reagan made the first speech at the CPAC Presidential Banquet, and the rest has been conservative conference history! This year’s speaker list is quite impressive in terms of political clout, from household names such as Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio to daily news mentions like NRA President David Keene and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.
However, the sociology of CPAC is becoming increasingly harder to describe from the outside looking in. CPAC serves as essentially a de facto political convention for the strong ideological base of the Republican Party, a base whose tent seems to be shrinking in recent times. With the exclusion of ever-popular New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who enjoys a 74% approval rating in his dark blue Garden State, and the gay conservative group GOProud, could it be that the conference is reflecting the actual platforms and ideals of the Republican Party in early 2013? With their prominent defeats last November, it’s now or never for Republicans to fix their message in hopes of appealing to a growing electorate that is giving the advantage to the Democrats.
So as Democrats watch the wire-balancing, political trapeze, and lion-taming circus show” that goes on during CPAC 2013, which conservatives should they be pulling for? Democrats essentially could have two different categories of people to cheer on. They could cheer on one group that more resembles likable conservative leaders (a la Chris Christie and Jon Huntsman) that the conservative base doesn't appear to fancy, or they could cheer on the polarizing figures in the GOP who might not play well in general elections and whose very ascension could continue to fracture the Republican Party.
Here are the CPAC attendees that Democrats should cheer on at the conference. Given the selection of conservatives to choose from, this is quite the challenging task. Find the full list of CPAC speakers here (more added daily) and here.
1. Jeb Bush, Former Governor Of Florida:
Hopefully people don’t stop reading after seeing this one (or any of these picks). Jeb Bush is married to Columba Bush, born and raised in Mexico, and was good with Latinos (unfortunately for them, he has since upon the release of his book, Immigration Wars, switched his stance on illegal immigrants’ path to citizenship to appeal to right-wing 2016 primary voters). He loves Chris Christie and relative to his conservative peers, seems to have his head on straight. He has appealed to a highly diverse "big tent" of voters in Florida and has promoted environmental protection legislation in the past. Democrats are hesitant to go near anything Bush-related after big brother George W. had his run in the white house, but Jeb has been calling for a "new GOP" as well.
2. Tom Coburn, Junior U.S. Senator From Oklahoma:
There are few prominent CPAC attendees who don’t oppose same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act, gun control, abortion rights, and other deal-breakers for Democrats. So I’ll focus on the aspects that might be endearing. Tom Coburn is known as "Dr. No" for his tendency to vote "nay" against anything he views not in line with the constitution. He is known for his pledges to not run for a third term (he will not seek re-election in 2016) and has continually opposed funding the war in Iraq (one of three Senators who voted "nay" in October 2007). Coburn builds his reputation as someone who adheres to principle, isn’t afraid of being a minority voice, and is less likely to succumb to Tea Party pressures than some of his fellow peers in the next six years.
3. Tim Scott, Junior U.S. Senator From South Carolina:
Recently appointed by Governor Nikki Haley to replace former senator Jim DeMint, Tim Scott is the only African-American serving in the U.S. Senate, and only the 7th in U.S. history to do so. Besides that, Scott has very very little personal ideology that a Democrat would cheer on. But I suppose progress is progress, and given the GOP’s need for rebranding and minority leaders, he is a powerful voice who will be given a seat at the Republican leadership table.
4. Marco Rubio, Junior U.S. Senator From Florida:
Rubio is largely considered one of the front-runners for the GOP nomination for 2016, and a potentially potent opponent for whomever the Democrats throw into the fray. That being said, Rubio, like Obama, has a certain favorable appeal to him. He is young, unafraid of making fun of himself (here and here) and is leading his caucus to much-needed immigration reform. The Republican Party could do a lot worse than sending this guy out to lead.
5. Rick Santorum, Former Senator from Pennsylvania; Rick Perry, Governor of Texas; Mitt Romney, 2012 Republican Presidential Nominee; Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House:
Alright, this one is a cop out ... the list I’m working with is difficult to pull from. Let’s be real: the 2012 primaries made for good television and ultimately helped out Democrats a whole lot. Could you imagine another go-around with these guys? Let’s go with another 20 debates, throw in some Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush, and we have an incredibly diverse set of approaches. This conference is quite the big deal for conservatives. It'll be fun to watch what comes out of it.