Conservative activists, politicians, and journalists of all stripes have descended on Maryland’s National Harbor for the 40th Annual Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), a veritable who’s who of conservative politics organized by the American Conservative Union Foundation. While this year’s theme is “America's Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives,” the exclusion of several prominent conservatives, including Governors Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, has raised many an eyebrow.
In light of their absence, and in no particular order, here are a few of the most controversial (and downright craziest) individuals slated to speak this year:
1. Sarah Palin
When John McCain transplanted Sarah Palin from Alaskan obscurity into the national spotlight, she brought her unique brand of homegrown crazy with her. She provided her critics with ample ammunition during the 2008 campaign, from pointing to her foreign policy experience as governor of Alaska, to struggling to name Supreme Court decisions or her reading list, to asking “What is it exactly that the VP does every day?” Since then, she's been filling her time coining new words, campaigning against death panels, and building relations with our “North Korean allies.”
Although this isn’t her first CPAC appearance, it’s uncertain what conference’s organizers expect to gain from someone even Fox News has decided is no longer relevant.
2. Donald Trump
Believe it or not, business magnate and reality-television host Donald Trump considered running for president in 2000 on the Reform Party ticket, supporting such radical policies like campaign finance reform and universal health care. But 12 years later, Trump seems to have traded substance for publicity.
He briefly campaigned for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, but is most notable for his persistent doubts regarding President Obama’s citizenship and support for the “birther” movement. He went so far as to dispatch investigators to Hawaii, and announced that "they cannot believe what they're finding." Even the release of Obama’s long form birth certificate wasn’t proof enough for Trump: He offered to donate $5 million to a charity of Obama’s choice if the president released his college and passport applications as well.
In an interesting twist, Trump was invited to return to CPAC this year, while pro-gay rights group GOProud, who campaigned heavily for him in the 2011 straw poll, was not.
3. Allen West
Former Florida Congressman Allen West was endorsed for president by none other than Glenn Beck, which in itself should lead any reasonable individual to question West’s credentials. He’s been praised and criticized for his blunt rhetoric and bombastic style, saying that drivers with Obama bumper stickers are “a threat to the gene pool,” and that Democratic “chicken men” should "get the hell out of the United States of America." Meanwhile, he sees himself as a “modern-day Harriet Tubman” while black Democrats are trying to keep his fellow African-Americans “on the plantation.”
West has been a regular fixture at CPAC in the past few years, delivering the 2011 keynote speech. He’s already made waves this year by stating “‘Peace comes from the Marine Corps, not the Peace Corps” and that there’s nothing liberals fear more than a black conservative.
4. Ken Cuccinelli
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has stated his intentions to run for governor of Virginia later this year, and while he’s not quite in the same league as Donald Trump or Sarah Palin, his credentials with the far-right are impeccable. He’s taken strong stances against abortion, illegal immigration, and the EPA, while leading the charge against the Affordable Care Act.
In 2012, Cuccinelli sparked a controversy when he instructed public universities in Virginia that including sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies was prohibited. He’s had his own brush with birthers (it "doesn't seem beyond the realm of possibility” that Obama was born in Kenya) and suggested that he wouldn’t register his son for a social security number because they were being used to track you.
Cuccinelli is another CPAC favorite, having received the Defender of the Constitution Award at the 2011 conference.
5. Michele Bachmann
Another 2012 presidential candidate, Minnesota Congressman Michele Bachmann is no stranger to political insanity. Some of her mix-ups (confusing actor John Wayne and serial killer John Wayne Gacy, for example) provide light-hearted comic relief, but she’s developed a much more concerning reputation for scientific ignorance. She has hinted at a link between swine flu and Democratic presidents, questioned whether carbon dioxide was harmful, and outraged public health experts across the board by blaming the HPV vaccine for causing mental retardation.
At last year’s CPAC, Bachmann said she learned quite a bit from her presidential campaign, but with her gift for words giving us such delightful phrases as “the LensCrafters of Abortion” and “gangster government,” who knows what we can expect from her in the future?
6. Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich has a long and colorful history with controversy. (You know it’s bad when MTV challenges its viewers to a game of “Who Said It?” between him and Kanye West.) Perhaps mournful of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Gingrich seems prone to totalitarian analogies, accusing Democrats of bringing “the joys of Soviet-style brutality and the murder of women and children,” while saying that “people like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.” More recently, he warned against America becoming “a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists.”
Gingrich seems to be expanding his talents at CPAC; in addition to his speech, he’s listed as starring in two films this year as well.
7. Louie Gohmert
Although Louie Gohmert is a recent addition to the crazy train, the Texas congressman has wasted no time in making a name for himself. His claim that Islamic terrorists were traveling to the U.S. to give birth, creating sleeper agents with American citizenship went viral after an emotional confrontation with Anderson Cooper. He later joined four other members of Congress (including Michele Bachmann) in seeking an investigation into ties between the Department of State and the Muslim Brotherhood, sparking accusations of McCarthyism.
Gohmert has started the conference off with a bang, claiming that the U.S. could have won the Vietnam war, if it weren’t for “people in Washington [who] decided we should not win it.”