CPAC 2013: Has the Conservative Movement Died?

4 years ago

CPAC kicks off today for the 40th time to discuss the challenges facing the conservative movement, namely whether it's still alive.

The cementing of CPAC, or the Conservative Political Action Conference, dates back to the second conference in 1974 when then-Governor Ronald Reagan delivered his "We will be a city on a hill" speech ushering in a wave of admiration from party faithful toward the rising star.

The wit and wisdoms extrolled by Reagan weaved together tapestries of America's patriotic story with seeming ease. He related to America and she to him. He resonated because he was the country, her vision, her ideals.

Today's Republican Party does not resonate with the public. It's mostly white male membership does not represent the shifting demographics, as evidenced by the last election.

More women vote, more singles vote and more young people vote than ever. All weaknesses in the GOP and its strategies which lead to dismal failures.

As the chosen theme of the 2013 CPAC states, the conservatives face "new challenges" and chiefly among them, how to unhinge the Democratic Party's hold on the presidency and the U.S. Senate.

Can CPAC turn that around? More importantly, will a new face of the party emerge this week to lead the charge and reinvigorate conservatism as a dominant American political philosophy?

An impressive slate of speakers representing today's America renews hope with many women and people of color - including the very buzzworthy U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte and Marco Rubio.

Notably absent from the speakers - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Some speculate the snubbing serves as punishment for his post-Hurricane Sandy embrace of President Obama. Yet the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC, cautioned against drawing any such conclusions pointing out that Christie addressed past CPACs.

To complicate matters, CPAC invited former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin to the stage despite her wobbly relationship with the Party and waning popularity with the public. In general, she's seen as the nutty symbol of what drives many would-be Republicans away.

Traditionally, CPAC set the year's agenda in a grassroots effort to strategically mobilize and unearth rare gems in current and future leaders. So what does it say about a movement that shuns moderate Christie (the future), but embraces the right-wing Palin (the past)?

The elephant in the room this week will be former Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and the lingering question will be contemplated many times: What's it going to take to win and will we do it?

What's especially interesting about that possible answer: the absent Christie continues to poll well up against would-be Democratic opponent for the White House in 2016 - Hillary Clinton. In fact, pollster Tim Malloy said Christie may have built some good will with the public for the very embrace of Obama many conservatives hated. In Malloy's words, it made him "palatable" to moderates of both parties.

In a nutshell, Christie would be formidable, but does the Party want to be right or win?

Between the book signings, moving screenings and grand old speeches extolling the virtues of conservatism between today and Saturday, perhaps there will a glimmer of hope that we'll once again find the true pulse point of America and give the Democrats a run for their money.

Ultimately, all the strategy and rhetoric must answer the call for a new dawn of the Republican Party and whom can lead us back to the city on the hill.

What are your thoughts? Are there any conservative leaders you would vote into the White House?

- Erica Holloway is a contributing editor for BlogHer. Follow her @erica_holloway.

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