Leaders of the right are congregating in Washington today for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) — three days of speeches, seminars, and workshops that will mark the unofficial kick-off of the 2012 presidentlal race. Potential 2012 hopefuls Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and John Thune will all be speaking at the event — though presumed frontrunners Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin will be no-shows. Here, five controversies already surrounding "the Republican version of Woodstock":
1. The GOProud Boycott
Several conservative groups are boycotting CPAC to protest the participation of GOProud, a group that advocates for gay conservatives. GOProud is co-sponsoring the conference, prompting some socially conservative groups and high-profile politicians like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) to withdraw. That boycott is short-sighted, says Jazz Shaw at Hot Air. There's room in the GOP for "voters who agree with a broad swath of other principles," even if they disagree with the party on others.
2. Sarah Palin vs Rick Santorum
Palin isn't attending the conference, but she has still been drawn into a feud surrounding it. Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator many assume will run for president next year, implied Palin was absent because she prioritizes "business opportunities" over her political future. He also suggested that Palin might be busy looking after "all these kids." The Alaskan responded in trademark style, suggesting Santorum is a "knuckle-dragging Neanderthal." Indeed, Santorum's remarks were an "unfair criticism," says Noreen Malone at Slate. Maybe the "good ol' boys on the right" aren't as accepting of Palin's "vexing and powerful" brand of feminism as we thought.
3. Watch out for the Muslim Brotherhood!
This year's obligatory conspiracy theory comes from Frank Gaffney, a conservative columnist who claims that "Islamism" has infiltrated CPAC in the form of Suhail Khan, an attorney who serves on the board of the American Conservative Union. Writing at World Net Daily, Gaffney claimed that Khan — who once said that the purpose of mosques was to "destroy western civilization from within" — is leading a "Muslim Brotherhood-influenced operation" to undermine the conservative movement.
4. The "SNL" alum who is the "Tea Party's answer to Al Franken"
CPAC also marks the continued emergence of a new conservative star — former Saturday Night Live comedienne Victoria Jackson, who some say "may very well be the Tea Party's answer to Sen. Al Franken." Jackson will be entertaining delegates on Thursday night at a CPAC party called "Liberty Fest." She's already compared the president to the Anti-Christ and Adolf Hitler. "I watch Glenn Beck, and he's taught me well," the 51-year-old told Fox News last year.
5. Maybe Trump is running after all?
Donald Trump has already said he is considering a run for the presidency — but pundits tend to take his repeated declarations with more than a pinch of salt. But the real estate magnate's surprise appearance at CPAC — confirmed on the day he was due to speak — could have commentators eating their words. "Trump's ability to command attention is big, and this cycle's GOP presidential field is completely open," say Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin at Politico. Perhaps the Donald is serious after all?