Pretty much all of the controversy in advance of this year's CPAC has revolved around who's not invited, rather than who is. That all changed late yesterday, when conference organizers blasted out a triumphal press release hailing the addition of Donald Trump to the main stage program:
The American Conservative Union (ACU) today announced Donald Trump will address CPAC 2013, the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference. America’s largest gathering of conservative leaders and activists to be held Thursday, March 14 – Saturday, March 16, 2013. “Donald Trump is an American patriot and success story with a massive following among small government conservatives,” said ACU Chairman Al Cardenas. “I look forward to welcoming him back to the CPAC stage next week. Mr. Trump’s previous CPAC appearance was hugely popular among our attendees and we expect it will be even more popular this year.”
Many conservatives are aghast, not just on account of Trump's obnoxious birtherism, but because they disdain him as a self-promoting poseur. Welcome to the "clown show," laments Phil Klein. Let me once again state for the record that Townhall is a major CPAC sponsor, and that I am again looking forward to attending and participating in this year's conference. But c'mon. We were told that Chris Christie wasn't welcome this time around because of his position on gun control. Or was it his Medicaid expansion? No, no, it was merely the consensus that he didn't have an "All-Star" year as a conservative. But if CPAC is going to exclude people for departures from conservative orthodoxy or cynical policy reversals, Trump's apostasy rap sheet is a mile long. And in what possible way did Trump qualify for the conservative All-Star squad in 2012? Did these embarrassing stunts do the trick? On a somewhat related note, it was also determined that a gay conservative organization couldn't participate for the second year in a row, due to an intemperate remark one of its leaders made several years ago. The conference really couldn't embrace anyone who wasn't committed to engendering a climate of "civil discourse," we were informed. Okay. Over to you, Donald:
"I'd look right in that fat ugly face of hers, and say Rosie, you're fired...I'd like to take some money out of her fat ass pockets."
Civility. Look, CPAC's organizers have every right to invite whomever they'd like to participate in their event. I've enjoyed my experiences at CPAC through the years and am pleased to be serving as a master of ceremonies for part of next week's festivities. But the conservative movement is at a very serious crossroads at the moment. There are essential discussions to be had about principles, outreach, messaging, policy, and broadening the appeal of conservative ideas. CPAC has long been a venerable and respected venue for discussing and debating precisely those sort of issues, so committed conservatives might be forgiven for entertaining some variant of this thought when yesterday's news broke:
I just can't take you seriously if you think Chris Christie is part of the problem but Donald Trump is part of the solution.— Kevin Eder (@keder) March 5, 2013
Allahpundit thinks this is all just a major platform for Trump to bash Karl Rove some more, which would thrill grassroots attendees for obvious reasons. But does Trump really care about solutions to reconcile conservatives' internal divisions? Does he even have a grasp of what those might be? I think we're far more likely to hear a plug for the new season of the Celebrity Apprentice than to be treated to any useful insights about the future of the movement. Donald Trump's area of passion and expertise is Donald Trump. Parting thought: 'Grassroots vs. establishment' tensions are real and potentially destructive. Why not set up a discussion between Rove and a thoughtful grassroots leader to really hash things out, with a Q&A session to include the audience? Perhaps next year CPAC might consider showing Trump the door in favor of something along these lines, which I think would be more productive.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography