Ringside Seat: Live from CPAC

For 2013, the American Conservative Union tagged their annual CPAC conference with the slogan "America's Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives." Presumably the organizers realized that the GOP's demographic troubles from 2012 spelled future trouble for the conservative movement. But Friday afternoon the panel trotted out the same old broken horses who ruined the party in the last election.

Rick Santorum was up first, the still-hard-to-believe runner-up for the GOP presidential nomination. Santorum briefly showed an air of compassion missing from his presidential campaign, centering the speech on his  the death of his nephew yesterday. He even displayed a hint of erudition one doesn't often associate with the former Pennsylvania senator, quoting Buddha and Viktor Frankl. But the speech quickly devolved into a typical diatribe on how Obama has ruined America and "wants to exchange the 'why' of the American Revolution for the 'why' of the French Revolution."

Rick wasn't the lone 2012 has-been to grace the conference's main stage. Mitt Romney returned to the event where last year he termed himself "severely conservative." Perhaps cherishing that glowing memory, CPAC crowd lavished Romney a long, glowing ovation when he came onstage. At first, the vanquished presidential nominee stuck close to the same tired anecdotes he relied on during the closing days of his flailing campaign. But midway through, he broke out of the routine and offered a bit of wisdom (yes, we said "wisdom"). "As someone who just lost the last election," he acknowledged, "I'm probably not the best person to chart the course for the next election." But "perhaps because I am a former governor, I would urge you to learn the lessons that come from some of our greatest success stories: the 30 Republican governors." His list of successful governors included Virginia's Bob McDonnell and New Jersey's Chris Christie—two popular executives who were disinvited from the conference for momentarily breaking from conservative dogma. "We particularly need to hear from the governors of the blue and purple states," Romney said. 

Perhaps, by gently chiding the conference's host, Romney meant to remind the crowd that he himself was one such governor not all that long ago—one who might have been able to present an appealing vision for the general election until the conservative base, and opponents like Santorum, forced him to adopt severely untenable views in order to win the nomination.


So They Say

“I’m a little tired of the hand-wringing. Conservatives were never meant to be the party of the crybaby caucus. If you get your tail whipped, you don’t whine about it—you stand up and you punch back.”

— Senator Mitch McConnell 

Daily Meme: Portman's Change of Heart

  • Senator Rob Portman, once a leading contender to be Mitt Romney's running mate, wrote an op-ed today for the Columbus Dispatch on his about-face on gay marriage. 
  • Why's he changed his mind? His son Will, a junior at Yale, is gay, and the sudden closeness of the issue made the senator reconsider his beliefs
  • Now Portman is the only sitting Republican senator to support gay marriage, though he does join the conservative consultants and retired politicians (Dick Cheney, for starters) who also differ from the party on this issue. 
  • There are two sitting Republican representatives who support gay marriage.
  • The president of Log Cabin Republicans sounded pretty pleased today: "If there was any doubt that the conservative logjam on the issue of civil marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples has broken, Senator Portman's support for the freedom to marry has erased it."
  • The president of the Traditional Values Coalition, on the other hand, compared being gay to drunk driving.
  • CPAC attendees preferred the 1950s, when homosexuals stayed in the closet.
  • Still, Andrew Sullivan writes that "when a community’s entire right wing and entire left wing back a reform, when their families back it, it becomes not a matter of left and right. It’s really a matter of right and wrong."
  • Jonathan Chait isn't so sure: "Portman ought to be able to recognize that, even if he changed his mind on gay marriage owing to personal experience, the logic stands irrespective of it: Support for gay marriage would be right even if he didn’t have a gay son. There’s little sign that any such reasoning has crossed his mind."
  • Matt Lewis says personal experience shouldn't influence politicians' policy calculations.
  • The person who deserves the most kudos for bravery, however, is Will Portman, who tweeted this morning, "Especially proud of my dad today."

What We're Writing

  • Sujatha Fernandes rides along with New York cabbies in the third installment of her series on immigrant workers in NYC. Not entirely surprisingly, cab drivers are mistreated by the public and exploited by the public (and the ladies have it worse).
  • Robert Kuttner asks a crucial question: Why don't Obama and the Democrats realize they're being rolled—and making Grover Norquist the happiest fellow in D.C.?

What We're Reading

  • Reid Cherlin profiles the ardent C-SPAN viewer who watches Washington Journal and sketches the show's politicos and journos—much to their terror/amusement.
  • Brown University's Cost of War project has run the numbers on our conflict in Iraq. It's not pretty.
  • Daily Intel's CPAC straw poll results: Attendees are pro-Chris Christie, meh on bazookas.
  • Who's funding this weekend's giant conservative party? Eliza Newlin Carney has the scoop.
  • Overactive Republican legislators have continued to respond to Newtown (and the 2,693 shooting deaths since then) by doubling down on guns. Guns in classrooms, guns in bars, guns on college campuses, guns in shopping malls, guns guns guns!
  • Florida's lieutenant governor made big money consulting for illegal gambling dens while in office. We mean, sure, it's Florida, have to expect a little of that, but it turns out that shady moonlighting is par for the course down there.
  • A Republican from Alabama and former chair of the House Ethics Committee took an all-expenses paid, $16,000 trip to Africa, stayed with a family under investigation by the French government for tax fraud, and said it was Al-Qaeda research. Has anything more ridiculous ever been less surprising?

Poll of the Day

Rasmussen has Americans' approval of the President's national security performance at a still-too-high 46 percent. The goodish news it that's down five points from 51 percent last month. Plurality acceptance of warrantless wiretapping, illegal domestic surveillance, unconstitutional murder programs, indefinite suspension of habeas corpusand the relentless persecution of whistleblowers in the "most transparent" administration ever is bad, but the month-to-month shift might mean that people are waking up a bit.

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