CPAC’s Self-Inflicted Wound

Derek Hunter
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Posted: Feb 23, 2017 12:01 AM
CPAC’s Self-Inflicted Wound

I don’t know Milo Yiannopoulos, and I don’t really want to know him. I know he worked for Breitbart News and is a provocateur. I don’t know if Andrew Breitbart ever met him, but neither I nor any other of Andrew’s friends I know remember him mentioning Milo.

When I heard Yiannopoulos was speaking at CPAC, the annual Washington conference for the conservative movement, I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised he had been selected as the keynote speaker.

CPAC has problems in non-election years attracting big names in quantity. This year’s event was scheduled during a congressional recess, so even fewer members of Congress will attend. That leaves large holes in the agenda of a three-day conference. Not to make a double entendre here, but those holes have to be filled.

Simple math dictated this year’s speakers list would lack the star power of last year’s. Last year, there were more than a dozen Republicans running for president. This year, there is President Trump, who will speak, as well as Vice-President Mike Pence and a great many administration officials. That’s a dozen or so out of roughly 100 speaking spots, and none will deliver the keynote speech or closing remarks.

With arguably the two biggest stars on the political right out for those two important slots, a scramble was almost assured.

CPAC disputes he was to be the keynote speaker, but all the stories announcing his participation reported he was – and there was no pushback from the organization to those stories.

Whatever was going to be Yiannopoulos’ role, he did not deserve either of those slots. It’s a “conservative” conference, and Yiannopoulos himself says he’s not a conservative; he’s more of a libertarian, which is a meaningless label now thanks to a rudderless libertarian movement.

Milo seems to be someone who enjoys pushing liberals’ buttons. I’m all for that. But there’s more to politics than simply making people mad. Anyone can make people mad. The skill comes in when you do it for a reason – to expose hypocrisy or advance a larger agenda.

Andrew Breitbart probably was the best at getting a reaction from leftists and exposing their hypocrisy. He didn’t do it by simply saying things he knew would set them off. He did it by setting traps and patiently waiting for liberals to walk right into them.

The ACORN videos were the perfect example of this. The release was slow-walked masterfully. They had a plan – I was told of it a month before the first video saw the light of day – and they executed it to maximum effect.

Before I’d even seen the videos, they were described to me by Andrew and then-Big Government editor Mike Flynn. I figured they’d all be dumped at once, overwhelming the left with disgusting proof of ACORN’s condoning of underage prostitution. That would have destroyed ACORN, but it would not have had the lasting impact the videos ended up having.

Andrew knew as soon as one was released the left would declare it an anomaly, an “isolated incident.” Democrats and media would follow suit. Then, another video would appear, and the pattern would repeat. Andrew knew liberals would hang themselves if he dripped them out one at a time. They’d have to eventually condemn ACORN, but they’d be exposed as frauds willing to excuse the inexcusable if they can get away with it for a few weeks. That’s exactly what happened.

It may not always have seemed like it, but there was a method to Andrew’s madness. The same can’t be said for Yiannopoulos.

Aside from being British, part Jewish, and a gay man who loves black men, I don’t know who Milo is. And I have no idea what he wants to accomplish beyond getting more people angry, making money and selling more books (which has now been canceled).

Anyone can make people angry, but that anger should be a means, not an end. With Yiannopoulos, that appears to be his brand. CPAC should have known this. A simple Internet search would have told anyone that. But they couldn’t be bothered.

CPAC’s leadership came off as the square old guy at the club who wants to appear cool so he speaks in hashtags to impress the young people. Their goal should have been to advance conservative principles; the only “hip” they should worry about is not breaking theirs.

CPAC has a brand to protect, and its mission is supposed to do just that. Instead its leaders opted for what they saw as easy pickings; a way to glom onto someone else’s popularity without understanding why he is popular. After 24 hours, they learned the hard way and uninvited Yiannopoulos. Like so many other aspects of the conservative movement, it was a self-inflicted wound.

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union Chairman and the head of CPAC, announced Milo as a speaker saying, “We think free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective.” Without knowing Milo’s perspective, he pronounced it “important.” That was dumb.

I have no problem with the concept of Milo speaking at CPAC as one of dozens of speakers. It’s not a safe space. A wide variety of opinions should be expressed there. But for someone to be elevated to “important,” he needs to actually be important. Or at least known and vetted. It was dumb not to.

That’s was CPAC’s biggest mistake – you don’t associate with someone you haven’t vetted. No matter what you think of Milo, if you’re running an organization bigger than any one individual, you’d better make damn sure you check out the people you imbue with the reputation of that organization.

Milo had to be dropped as much for the failure of CPAC’s leadership to look into what he says as for the failure to prepare for the backlash having him would create. If they had thought three moves ahead like Andrew Breitbart, rather than just about buzz and ticket sales, they could have avoided this embarrassment. They didn’t, and the damage done to the CPAC brand is their fault.

I’ve said this too many times, but conservatives are still horrible at messaging. It’s hard to advance your message when the biggest problems you face are of your own doing. Perhaps it’s time CPAC and the ACU got new leadership that not only understands this, but acts accordingly as well.