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South Less Solid, The GOP Adrift

The once-Republican Solid South is starting to look like a blue-and-red checkerboard, writes Lloyd Green.

Given what the Republican Party is and where America’s demographics are heading, it is unclear whether the Grand Old Party can successfully pivot to the center without jeopardizing its socially conservative evangelical base. Electoral competitiveness remains elusive for Republicans as singles and younger voters have migrated to the Democratic Party. The GOP is also shackled with the legacies of Iraq, Katrina and the crash of 2008 that have led many to view Republican competence as oxymoronic. 

Republicans

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus leaves after speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, Monday, March 18, 2013. The RNC formally endorsed immigration reform on Monday and outlined plans for a $10 million outreach to minority groups and gay voters among them as part of a strategy to make the GOP more "welcoming and inclusive" for voters who overwhelmingly supported Democrats in 2012. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

So at best, the party is barely treading water. A recent PPP poll shows both incumbent Senator Marco Rubio and former Governor Jeb Bush trailing Hillary Rodham Clinton by double digits—in Florida. Putting things in perspective, if the Republicans do not win Florida, they cannot re-take the White House. Indeed, with Florida, and Virginia — another state that Barack Obama carried twice—the once-Republican Solid South is starting to look like a blue-and-red checkerboard, with Democrats now owning some of the biggest squares.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party is far from agreed that it even has a problem. In fact, intra-party schisms were vividly displayed at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, to which New Jersey’s popular governor Chris Christie was not invited. Instead, CPAC attendees heard Donald Trump do his usual rich guy-tough guy routine, and listened to Sarah Palin extol her husband’s and her own physical endowments. Okay for reality TV, perhaps, if not so much for serious national politics.

NRA Republicans Conservatives CPAC

Ruthann Sprague, with the National Rifle Association, shows Bonnie Kristian, 24, of Alexandria, Virginia, how to hold the Laser Shot at a shooting simulator booth run by the NRA at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, March 15, 2013. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

From fighting ‘stupid laws’ to teaching young members how to discourage ‘anti-gunners’ from voting, the NRA made its presence known at CPAC. Caitlin Dickson reports.

At NRA University, National Rifle Association grassroots organizer Miranda Bond told a group of young conservatives fresh from Sarah Palin’s fiery, lead-barreled CPAC speech Saturday afternoon that encouraging pro-gun friends to register to vote was a good start—and even better would be to discourage “anti-gunners” from casting ballots.

“The thing is, we don’t want the anti-gunners to vote,” she said, lamenting the fact that President Obama was reelected despite the NRA’s best efforts to oust him. So, she said, students should set up voter registration booths on campus but “put up a great big sign that says: ‘Pro-gun? Vote Here.” That will keep the gun control advocates away, she said, because “they’re scared of guns.”

The group of more than 50 people, about half of them women, were there to listen, to learn, and to claim a free NRA hat as well as a free year of membership.

Before another grassroots organizer, Colton Kerrigan, got things started with what he called a “pump-up video,” Ashley DeNardo, coming directly from Palin’s speech, filled out her registration form. The 19-year-old journalism student at West Virginia University said she comes from a family of gun owners and was eager to get involved with the NRA. She began target shooting when she was 13, and her family moved out of the city of Rochester to Williamson, a more rural area.

Freak Show

CPAC’s Peddlers of Resentment

The annual freak show goes a way toward validating the “lamestream media’s” view of a Republican Party at war with itself, writes Michael Moynihan.

Upon arriving Thursday at CPAC, the first thing said to me, squealed by a cheerful young conservative activist, was an admonition to “go upstairs because Dick Morris is about to speak!” The following day, I could listen to the musings of Donald Trump (I skipped this, as did almost every other attendee). And Saturday, to end on a rousing and inspirational note, a speech by Sarah Palin. While Trump has The Apprentice on NBC, Morris and Palin have recently been fired from Fox News.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin drinks from a 7-Eleven Super Big Gulp at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 16, 2013. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

As I wrote on Friday, the ossified ideas offered by the former Fox heads were loudly challenged by Sen. Rand Paul’s insurgent movement of socially tolerant Republicans. While the old guard complained about being unfairly treated by the press corps, Paul excited the crowd with a heavy dose of libertarian ideas slickly packaged for a conservative audience. CPAC organizers kept out New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the gay activist group GOProud; perhaps they should have been paying more attention to Paul and the party’s libertarian wing.

On Saturday, Palin was dismissing as a liberal media slander the idea that conservatives were locked in an internecine ideological battle. The conference was full of reporters, she complained, “here to write their annual ‘conservatives in crisis’ story.” She doesn’t believe that the Republican Party is rudderless and beset by infighting—in a state of crisis—but there she was, the not-even-one-term governor turned reality television star, excoriating Republican consultant Karl Rove from the stage, along with the rest of those faux conservative quislings and quitters. From the big-name speeches to the small-panel discussions, there was virtually no mention of the Bush presidency (though conservative fossil Phyllis Schlafly managed an attack on George W. and George H.W. Bush from the dais). But there is most certainly not a crisis within the conservative movement.

SO HOT RIGHT NOW

Rand Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll

Rand Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll Senator Rand Paul at CPAC on Thursday. (Alex Wong/Getty)

Ted Cruz gives keynote at conservative conference.

Young voters are ruling CPAC. The libertarian Kentucky senator won CPAC’s Saturday night’s presidential straw poll—which many people consider an indicator of how the Republican Party will swing in 2016. Paul has been somewhat of a star at the annual convention for conservative voters, although he received real competition from Sarah Palin, whose theatrical sip from a Big Gulp nearly stole the show on Saturday. While CPAC used to just be for the fringes of the Republican Party, this year’s convention has brought out Mitt Romney (in his first public post-election appearance, no less), Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul, with Tea Party Texas Sen. Ted Cruz giving the keynote address on Saturday night.

Read it at The Daily Beast

At day three of the conservative conference, attendees were getting listless—until the congresswoman from Minnesota threw them the red meat they’d been craving. Caitlin Dickson reports.

Saturday seemed like it was off to a slow start, as tired (and possibly hung-over) CPACers filed into the Gaylord Convention Center for the third straight day of conservative consorting.

Michelle Bachmann at CPAC

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) waves as she arrives to speak at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 16, 2013. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The radio and TV news booths that had lined the once-crowded hallway outside the convention center’s main ballroom were now almost all deserted. Jacob Champion, one of the eager Rand fans who was super-psyched to be at CPAC on day one, was still sporting a red tie and jacket adorned with “Stand With Rand” stickers, but by now he looked decidedly dazed. He ambled into the main auditorium, telling me he was exhausted, while Newt Gingrich wrapped up a snooze of a speech.

Everything changed, however, when Michele Bachmann bounded onto the main stage. As the music of tween pop stars One Direction announced her arrival, the audience leapt to its feet to greet her.

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CPAC’s Politics of Paranoia

At CPAC, the old politics of paranoia are always in vogue, writes John Avlon.

There’s no place where the paranoid style in American politics mixes with presidential aspirants quite like CPAC.

Young Americans for Freedom at CPAC

Stu McKay, 19, left, Andrew Hornsby, 20, and Taylor Wright, 19, all with the college group Young Americans for Freedom, roll up posters of Ronald Reagan to hand out at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, March 15, 2013. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

At this year’s conservative conclave, held at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland, there is a mood of grim resignation after their rejection in the 2012 election, a determination to look for restoration along even stricter ideological lines.

What was once a decidedly fringe festival that Main Street Republicans have derided as a “Star Wars bar scene” has become a mandatory stop on the GOP presidential circuit, with Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, and Paul Ryan all making speeches this year. For conservative activists, it serves as an annual tribal gathering, selling special knowledge to those who feel at war with much of modern America and all of the Obama administration. And the media happily feed the beast because CPAC offers a one-stop shop for portraying the uneasy coexistence between constitutionalists and conspiracy theorists inside the conservative movement.

Minority Outreach

CPAC’s Race-Talk Train Wreck

It was a session that was meant to help Republicans transcend the destructive tag. Then a white supremacist started talking segregation and everything went into a tailspin.

At the end of a long hallway, a raucous crowd spilled out of a small conference room. People stood on tiptoes and held camera phones over heads as the conversation heated up.

Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington

Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington. (AP; Arthur P. Bedou/Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty)

K. Carl Smith, founder of the Frederick Douglass Republicans, had just finished leading the panel discussion entitled “Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You’re Not One?” during which he insisted that, simply by associating themselves with the slave-turned-Republican politician, white conservatives can trump the race card. While attendees nodded, applauded, and even cheered a little throughout the talk, the question-and-answer session that followed devolved into a bit of a verbal brawl.

It all started when Terry, an audience member from Towson University’s White Student Union, complained that “my people, my demographic are being systematically disenfranchised,” and suggested that instead of following in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass, “Booker T. Washington Republicans” might be a better identity for the GOP—you know, “unified like the hand, but separate like the fingers.” Yes, that was an allusion to segregation, which was received with bug eyes and dropped jaws.

Conservatives

What’s Religion Got to Do With It?

A CPAC panel Friday tried to focus on the procedure’s side effects on women, physically and mentally. One attendee wishes that were the major line of attack—and not just faith.

Alex sat behind several rows of empty seats in Maryland’s Gaylord Convention Center’s main ballroom on Friday, listening intently to the pro-life panel discussion ahead of her, looking down at her sparkly encased iPad only occasionally between applause and nods.

Ann Wagner, Marjorie Dannenfelser, Planned Parenthood

Ann Wagner, 2011; Marjorie Dannenfelser, 2010; escort awaits Planned Parenthood visitors before a pro-life protest, 2013. (Alex Wong/Getty, The Washington Post/Getty, Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

“I think in this day and age women deserve better,” the 24-year-old Alabama transplant said at the end of the CPAC panel, declining to give her last name because she now works in D.C. politics. “The anti-abortion movement needs to emphasize to young women that we care about you, we want to offer you other options and prevent the damage that abortions can have on women. I think this panel did a good job of explaining that.”

The panelists, who took the stage following Mitt Romney’s lukewarmly anticipated speech, were here to talk about abortion and the pro-life movement’s strategy for reversing the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision 40 years after the ruling.

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Freak Hunting at CPAC

The GOP’s libertarian and socially conservative wings are eyeing each other warily, writes Michael Moynihan.

In 1998, Stephen Glass’s career as a journalist began unraveling with a ripping yarn, entirely fabricated as it turned out, about the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Glass, writing in The New Republic, claimed to have followed a group of young righties—including the clichéd “meaty” Midwestern quarterback, and a “freckled boy from Iowa”as they smoked pot, engaged in lascivious sexual behavior, and drank like an army of Hunter Thompsons in pleated pants. “This is the face of young conservatism in 1997,” he wrote. “Pissed off and pissed; dejected, depressed, drunk and dumb.”

Rand Paul Supporters

Supporters of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) watch as he addresses the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), March 14, 2013, in National Harbor, Maryland. (Alex Wong/Getty)

In 2013 Glass’s story, had it been real, would have scandalized nobody. It’s rather common to find college-age attendees at CPAC offering full-throated support for either the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana (lots of sly smirks when asked, but no one would admit to smoking pot, except for some of those rock-ribbed libertarian attendees). And despite the focus on the exclusion of the gay conservative group GOProud, I had a difficult time finding young conservatives who believed gay Republicans should be excluded from the conference.

Indeed, the libertarian crowd has been increasingly vocal at Obama-era CPACs—Ron Paul has routinely won the annual straw poll—but this year, the Rand Paul Brigades look something like an occupying force. Everywhere one turns, there are “Stand With Rand” signs, stickers, and T-shirts (a volunteer told me he had handed out a thousand shirts in just over two hours). In the rush to see the Kentucky senator’s speech, one Paul supporter thrust a “Stand With Rand” placard into a young conservative’s hands. He resisted, offering a sheepish apology: “Sorry, I’m not a libertarian.” The sign hustler also apologized: “Oh, sorry, it’s just that so many people here are.”

Family First

Gay Brawl at CPAC

The conservative confab is atwitter over a Republican senator’s reversal on same-sex marriage. Caitlin Dickson talks to shocked attendees.

A Republican senator who was thisclose to joining Mitt Romney’s presidential ticket last year dropped a bomb this morning by announcing he supports gay marriage—and got a mostly frosty reception from the fired-up conservatives gathered outside of D.C. for the annual CPAC convention.

Senator Rob Portman

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, pauses to talk on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 26, 2013, after the weekly Republican policy luncheon. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Sen. Rob Portman has “come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime committed to love…the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married,” he wrote in The Columbus Dispatch, adding that his own gay son had spurred the change of heart.

Portman won some quick praise in the press for “taking the lead” on the contentious issue, but the crowd here at CPAC, for the most part, didn’t react well to the dramatic reversal.

He’s Back!

Mitt ‘Will Be Your Coworker’

The defeated candidate was still energetic, telling CPAC he was sorry he lost the election but delivering an upbeat message that drew cheers. Howard Kurtz on Romney’s reemergence.

One year after he told CPAC that he had been a “severely conservative” governor, Mitt Romney returned to the conservative gathering as a severely defeated candidate.

Former Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney

Former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney acknowledges supporters as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland on March 15, 2013. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters, via Landov)

Stepping back onto the public stage to a sustained standing ovation, the former Republican nominee said it was time to “take back the nation, take back the White House, get the Senate, and put in place conservative principles.”

Romney acknowledged up front that he was “disappointed” at losing to President Obama. And he said it was “fashionable in some circles” to be pessimistic about America and about the Republican Party.

You're Fired

Donald Trump, Still Wacky

The Donald used his CPAC appearance to skewer the GOP, Obama and the press—and remind folks he’s rich. Lauren Ashburn on his wild speech.

One thing about Donald Trump: he knows how to entertain a crowd.

The hair-challenged gazillionaire blew into Washington to address the CPAC gathering on Friday, knowing full well he needed an act to compete with the likes of Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin.

Donald Trump at CPAC

Donald Trump, chairman and president of the Trump Organization and founder of Trump Entertainment Resorts Donald Trump, gives the v-sign during his speech at the 40th Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland on March 15, 2013. (Shawn Thew/EPA, via Landov )

And he’s no apprentice when it comes to getting folks fired up.  

Ryan Warning

CPAC’s Doctor Doom

No talk of compromise here—at CPAC on Friday morning, the former vice-presidential candidate delivered a sky-is-falling speech. Howard Kurtz on his dark warnings about slashing the budget.

If Paul Ryan wanted to dispel his image as a green-eyeshade guy obsessed with deficits, he came to CPAC with the wrong speech.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan delivers remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. (Shawn Thew/EPA, via Landov)

The former vice-presidential nominee devoted his speech Friday to defending his budget-slashing blueprint and vision of leaner government without really addressing the impasse between his party and the White House.

“We’re not balancing the budget as an accounting exercise,” he told the crowd, which frequently applauded him. “We’re trying to improve people’s lives. Our debt is a threat to this country.”

Same-Sex Marriage

CPAC’s Unauthorized Gay Summit

Gay GOP groups were excluded from this year’s conservative get-together, but that didn’t stop one uninvited panel from forming—and imploring their fellow Republicans to embrace tolerance.

Gay Republican groups were not invited to this year’s CPAC. Yet at the end of the first day, perhaps the most crowded conference room turned bar at Maryland’s Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center was the one occupied by a panel called “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet.”

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A demonstrator waves a rainbow flag in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Maria Belen Perez Gabilondo/AFP/Getty)

The event was hotly anticipated—and overly crowded—as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank actually invited to the Conservative Political Action Conference, circumnavigated the snub by hosting its own panel on same-sex marriage and asked GOProud co-founder and executive director Jimmy LaSalvia and others to speak.

“A new conservative coalition starts here in this room. Will you join us? Will you stand up to forces of intolerance?” LaSalvia implored the crowd. “Join us in building a better coalition that can win and use it in making America better.”

CPAC

Allen West Slams Romney

The GOP nominee put the fiery congressman on his Black Leadership Council—and then never called. Outreach ‘doesn’t mean anything unless you actually show up,’ he says.

Allen West might have been kicked out of Congress in 2012, but he’s still treated like a rising rock star at CPAC. While his fellow black Tea Party congressman, Tim Scott, is now a senator from South Carolina, West is now a host on PJTV’s online channel and is raising money for his Guardian Fund to support veterans and minority conservatives running for office.

Republicans Conservatives

Allen West speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

West was controversial in Congress, with a propensity toward accusing Democrats of being communists. But he saved his friendly fire this CPAC for Republicans’ failure to reach out to minorities, with special blame set aside for Mitt Romney.

“Governor Romney missed that opportunity [to reach out]. I was on his African-American leadership council and never got a phone call from him,” West told me, walking down the hallway at Maryland’s Gaylord hotel. “Never got a phone call.”

The Weird and the Right at CPAC

CPAC 2013 is where conservatives gather to discuss political and social topics to move forward as a unified group-but it's also where Minutemen in 18th-century garb and Transformers can be seen roaming the halls. Michael Moynihan talks to some CPAC-ers who march to the beat of their own drums.

Shooting Guns With The NRA

Want some tips for hunting? Michael Moynihan learns from the NRA at their 'lasershot' booth at CPAC 2013. And is that a Transformer peeking over his shoulder?

Plus

More on CPAC 2013

Our Stupid Political Spring Break

Our Stupid Political Spring Break

A make-or-break fight for a House seat for… eight months, the CPAC straw poll’s awesome predictive powers, and Eric Holder’s dizzying logic.

MONEY TALKS

Can Rand Make it Rain?

VOTER’S CHOICE

GOP’s Whack a Mole Addiction

SWEET 2016

GOP '16: Strong Field, No Leader

Fear The Beaver

The Rainbow Beaver Haunting CPAC