To all outward appearances, the just-concluded Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was a huge success. It was attended by a large, boisterous crowd, a substantial part of which was student-age - a promising indicator of the movement’s appeal to the coming generation. A number of luminaries, including several prospective presidential candidates, addressed enthusiastic audiences clearly invigorated by November’s successes at the polls.
CPAC’s apparent vigor, however, obscured the fact that the conservative movement is at a crossroads: Will it continue to be comprised of, and appeal to, all three elements of Ronald Reagan’s winning coalition - fiscal discipline, traditional family and other social values, and a national security approach rooted in the philosophy of “peace through strength”? Or will it be reduced to a libertarian-dominated, small-government agenda that ignores or repudiates Reagan’s conservative values and robust defense platform?
Upon the answer rests not only the future of this vital movement, but of America. For if conservatives get this strategic question wrong, they not only are unlikely to enjoy the support of the electorate come 2012. They will not deserve that support.
Unfortunately, the evidence that libertarian impulses were ascendant at CPAC was not only to be found in the straw poll victory of their exemplar, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. It was also apparent in who was - and who was not - participating as sponsors of the conference and/or some of its events.
The former included GOProud, Muslims for America and the so-called “Conservative Inclusion Coalition” - organizations that, in the name of “inclusiveness,” are insinuating into the conservative movement individuals and initiatives that are divisive and anathema to many who hew to Ronald Reagan’s beliefs and policies. Such sponsors include: aggressive promoters of the anti-family and pro-homosexual agenda; advocates for gambling, open borders, amnesty for illegal aliens and legalization of addictive drugs; champions of gutting the defense budget and immediately withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq; and people associated with Muslim Brotherhood front organizations and agendas.
For example, at a panel sponsored by the Conservative Inclusion Coalition, a panelist even expressed enthusiasm for reaching out to the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan’s notoriously anti-Semitic and increasingly radical Islamist organization.
Meanwhile, among those who declined to participate in CPAC 2011 were: the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women of America and the Media Research Center. These organizations are committed not only to reducing the deficit and keeping taxes low. They also favor preservation of the family rooted in marriage between one man and one woman as the key building block of a healthy, democratic society. And they are committed to a strong national defense, one that ensures that our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to protect our country.
The good news is that a number of CPAC speakers explicitly endorsed the need to build on the approach favored by these absent organizations and, at least implicitly, rejected that of the proponents of inclusiveness. That was the case with most, but not all, of the would-be presidential candidates. It was particularly true of the opening and closing keynote addresses delivered by two of the stars of the conference - Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Rep. Allen West of Florida, respectively. These two darlings of the Tea Partyers made clear that anyone who tries to portray their grass-roots movement as exclusively concerned with balancing the budget (important as that is) does not understand the conviction they and their cohorts share about a Constitution grounded in Judeo-Christian values and the obligation to provide for the common defense.
The choice before conservatives was perhaps put most starkly by David Horowitz. Mr. Horowitz is an iconic figure in the movement, whose personal trajectory - from the child of avow-ed communists and a young adulthood spent as a top revolutionary leftist to his transformation into a leading conservative thinker and champion of freedom - earned him a standing ovation at the outset of his remarks from the thousands assembled to hear him in CPAC’s main ballroom. Importantly, Mr. Horowitz got another one after he forcefully decried the role being played in dividing and undermining the movement by organizations that have lately conjured up a conservative movement leadership role for the “Inclusion Coalition.”
For conservatives it is, indeed, a time to choose: Will they embrace the contention that the elections of 2010 prove that economic issues alone will earn our movement a mandate to control the White House and Senate, as well as the House of Representatives, 22 months from now? Or will they recognize the necessity of appealing to Republicans, independents and Reagan Democrats with a platform of fiscal discipline, yes, but one that rests firmly, as Allen West put it Saturday, on two other “pillars”: a robust national security stance and a clear commitment to traditional conservative social values?
Much rides on the answer. Indeed, the stakes are nothing less than the future of America, whose best hope is that a new, stronger and more dynamic Reagan conservative coalition will emerge from the divisions papered over at CPAC 2011.