Every year conservative activists, presidential hopefuls, and "Republican ladder-climbers" convene at CPAC to symbolically christen a front-running candidate (for what it's worth, in 2010 Ron Paul won). But the festivities this time around have been less "Miss America Show" and more, as New York magazine's Chris Rovzar put it, "uncharacteristically flamboyant."
For the last several months potential attendees have been sniping at each other about the the inclusion of "combative" gay-group GOProud as a co-sponsor of the event. Social conservative organizations Family Research Council and Concerned Women For America are boycotting the event, as is Sen. Jim DeMint (Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin are also not attending for "scheduling" reasons).
But CPAC will go on and, quite possibly, benefit from the intra-party strife--at least in terms of media attention. "The truth is that it's five boycotters and 10,000 people who are attending the conference, so we're celebrating the 10,000 people and not the five who are boycotting," GOProud Board Chairman Chris Barron told RealClearPolitics blogger Scott Conroy. "Most of the organizations speaking out weren't CPAC sponsors last year, so who the hell cares if they're boycotting, quite frankly?"
An attention-grabber at CPAC will be conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart's "big 'ol gay party," presented with the caveats that he still does not support gay marriage and will not take a stance on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". Other prominent conservatives noted for supporting the inclusion of GOProud as a co-sponsor include Mary Matalin, Grover Norquist and American Conservative Union president David Keene, notes CNN contributor John Avlon.
At The Atlantic, Nicole Russell hedges when appraising the new CPAC landscape. "If true conservatism lies in the equal standing of all three issues [national security, fiscal responsibility and social issues], GOProud's inclusion is just the most obvious sign that CPAC has veered from what it represented at its founding, critics say. Ronald Reagan spoke at the group's very first meeting in 1974, and would find it unrecognizable, they allege."
But these critics' ranks may be thinning: even Sarah Palin confirmed that she endorsed the GOProud's attendance at the event. "I don't have a problem with different, diverse groups that are involved in political discourse, and having a convention to talk about what the answers are to their problems that face America," she said on Fox News (via Daily Caller) "We better be concentrating on what is really important and not going tit-for-tat as people are positioning themselves for 2012 and figuring out what groups is going to support whom."