If the GOP is doing some soul-searching after losing the presidential election, the Conservative Political Action Conference didn't get the memo. Consider, courtesy of a recently leaked schedule, the three speakers who will be given the most speaking time: Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, and Donald Trump.
Officially, organizers aren't doling out longer time slots to anyone, with the exception of Ted Cruz, the newly elected senator from Texas, for the keynote speech. And according to National Review, "a source familiar with CPAC stressed that all of the speakers were given about the same amount of time to talk, and that the minute-by-minute schedule remains a draft." Plus, even according to the leaked draft, it's not like Palin (16 minutes) and Trump (14 minutes) have that much more time than, say, Marco Rubio (11 minutes) or Rand Paul (13 minutes).
And yet... Palin and Trump? They don't exactly scream "brand-new GOP," especially considering a key politician who was snubbed altogether by CPAC: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Granted, CPAC has always been more about rallying the base than grooming establishment candidates. But if CPAC's mission is really to "promulgate and crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America," do they really need the host of Celebrity Apprentice? Commentary's Peter Wehner weighs in:
For those who actually care about conservatism and who take seriously its intellectual and moral tradition, what CPAC is doing is unfortunate and destructive, and I hope someone at the conference says so … Mr. Trump will garner much attention, the left and the press will have a field day, and the public will watch all of this unfold and simply shake their head at the childishness and unseriousness of it all.
Well done, CPAC. Well done. [Commentary]
Michelle Malkin also jumped on the anti-Trump train:
CPAC gave clown Trump a longer speaking slot. Will he use platform to plug lib starlet Ashley Judd's Senate campaign? thegatewaypundit.com/2013/03/donald…
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) March 12, 2013
You'd think that Palin and Trump might help sell tickets. And packed rooms full of passionate supporters are definitely a priority for the American Conservative Union, organizers of CPAC. Still, from the outside, it's hard to see the exclusion of politicians like Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in favor of Tea Party favorites like Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin as anything less than a battle for the party's soul, according to Bernie Quigley of The Hill:
There is a division today in what is called conservatism, although it should be called something else. It has been forming for several years and will come to clarity and decision in CPAC 2013. The new directions — states’ rights, sound money and constitutional government — of what might be called the gnarly conservatives will come to clash with traditional or what might be called "nice" conservatives ("the establishment"). The nice: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Dr. Ben Carson. The gnarly: Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent. [The Hill]
Of course, not everyone agrees that CPAC should embrace more moderate speakers. Several conservatives have bemoaned the exclusion of Pamela Geller, the woman behind the controversial anti-Islam ads in New York City's subways. Scott Conroy at Real Clear Politics spells out why this ideological divide matters:
Four years after the dawn of the Tea Party movement highlighted a pre-existing rift on the right — a rift that seems to have grown wider since then — CPAC has become a lightning rod that will either provide a much-needed jolt of energy to a conservative movement still disheartened by the 2012 elections or demonstrate why some on the right are increasingly inclined to stay away. [Real Clear Politics]
Regardless of how it affects the GOP's national reputation, CPAC itself, which kicks off on Thursday, is doing just fine: Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, tells NPR that nearly 10,000 people are expected to show up.