CPAC’s Social War
Some social conservatives attempt to link Ron Paul’s libertarianism to GOProud’s social liberalism.
By Daniel McCarthy
For 38 years, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. has been the closest thing the vast right-wing conspiracy has to a national convention. There’s even a presidential nomination at stake, or at least a straw poll whose top spot is highly coveted by Republican hopefuls. (In 2007, for example, Mitt Romney went all out—and all in with his own cash—to win the poll as proof of his movement credibility.)
This year, CPAC is making news before the conference even opens on Feb. 10. Furious at the inclusion of a gay Republican group, GOProud, among CPAC’s sponsors, a number of social-conservative organizations, such as the Concerned Women of America and American Family Association—and, more surprisingly, the Heritage Foundation and Media Research Council—are boycotting this year’s meeting. “To bring in a ‘gay’ group is a direct attack on social conservatives, and I can’t participate in that,” the Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell III told WorldNetDaily.
Bozell’s objection would be more credible if CPAC had not included other groups at odds with conservative orthodoxy in years past—including the American Civil Liberties Union. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association provided a clue as to a deeper reason for the split when he said, “We believe in truth in advertising. They should call themselves the Libertarian Political Action Committee.”
One time Republican presidential candidate turned Fox News personality Mike Huckabee voiced the same complaint last year, as he pouted about Rep. Ron Paul’s unexpected straw-poll win. “CPAC has become increasingly libertarian and less Republican over the last years, one of the reasons I didn’t go this year,” Huckabee said.
Another incident in 2010 set the stage for this year’s CPAC civil war: anti-homosexuality activist Ryan Sorba attacked the Paul-affiliated youth group Young Americans for Liberty for their supposed connection to GOProud. In fact, he confused—deliberately or otherwise—YAL with the socially left-leaning Students for Liberty, whose president, Alexander McCobin, had defended GOProud.
During the Bush years, the self-credentialed spokesmen of the cultural right cast their lot with the Republican establishment and neoconservative warhawks. This guaranteed social conservatives a place at the table—right alongside President Bush’s dog, Barney. Social issues ranked last as the GOP welcomed the likes of Sen. Joseph Lieberman into their coalition as allies in the holy war on terror.
As the American people have turned decisively against the nation-building projects Afghanistan and Iraq, and as the Tea Parties have stormed center stage in grassroots politics, groups like the Family Research Council have been left behind. Activist energy at CPAC doesn’t rally to GOProud or gay rights—but it does rally to the socially conservative libertarian Ron Paul.
The Beltway’s moralizing minority have become casualties of the Republican wars and rampant spending they so long tolerated.
Attacking Ron Paul and his supporters for their fiscal conservatism won’t help Gary Bauer or Brent Bozell reconnect with the grassroots right, of course, so they have launched a sly campaign to link libertarianism at CPAC—which is overwhelmingly of the Ron Paul variety—to GOProud’s social liberalism. It’s a desperate measure, one that betrays the pro-life and pro-family causes, which are best pursued in exactly the manner Paul has pursued them, through federalism and smaller government.
Daniel McCarthy is editor of The American Conservative.