Rather than coming up with new ideas, conservatives seemed as confident as ever that their ideas appeal to a majority of Americans, proclaiming a seemingly moral victory over the left and patting each other on the back. "The man who deserved a Nobel Prize more than [any winners] in the past century combined ... is Ronald Reagan," insisted newly elected Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. The Gipper's secretary of education, Bill Bennett, assured attendees that their team hadn't ossified since then, though. "The team we have in the field now for the conservative movement is greater than the team we had in the field in the days of Reagan," he said.
Such talk is typical fare at political gatherings, of course. But in this case, it reflects a denial that 2012 was any kind of ideological rebuke. Pollster Kellyanne Conway argued, for example, that a victory shouldn't have been too expected by conservatives, since no incumbent who didn't face a primary challenger has lost the presidency since Herbert Hoover. Cruz countered one of Mitt Romney's most infamous statements of the campaign, saying, "Republicans are and should be the party of the 47 percent." And following a campaign in which Romney and his allies lambasted President Obama for his handling of Israel and the president still won 70 percent of the Jewish vote, Cleta Mitchell, a powerful lobbyist, NRA board member, and American Conservative Union board member, returned to a question that has baffled conservative thinkers for years: "Why do Jews vote for Democrats who are against Israel?"
"Republicans are and should
be the party of the 47 percent," said Senator Ted Cruz.
Social conservatism was conspicuous at the summit as a topic that organizers downplayed even as they seemingly staying supportive of hardline views. The last year marked the first time that more Americans support gay marriage nationally than oppose it, while two states voting to decriminalize marijuana in the last election. Meanwhile, 63 percent of Americans currently oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. If the nation isn't becoming socially liberal per se, it certainly seems to be moving toward a more permissive, libertarian posture.
And the gap on gay marriage and abortion is even more pronounced among younger voters. A group of younger conservatives -- not all, or even necessarily a majority, but definitely a growing portion -- are silent members of this demographic shift, and seemed disappointed by the omission of open debate on these issues at the summit. Meanwhile, many speakers and attendees seemed to be in denial of how badly issues poll nationally, especially with this younger demographic. "Once they get married and have babies they'll become more socially conservative," Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition assured me.
Equally telling, though, only two panels during the entire three-day event really focused on social issues: a Friday talk on abortion (which coincided with the first day of the annual March for Life) and a panel on marriage on Sunday. The latter of these panels, fascinatingly enough, featured one of the summit's only two openly gay men: Doug Mainwaring, of the National Capital Tea Party Patriots. (The other, venture capitalist Peter Thiel, didn't really address gay marriage.) But Mainwaring opposes gay marriage, putting him at odds with the two biggest gay Republican organizations, GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans, both of which advocate for marriage equality. Neither had any official representatives on stage during the event, though GOPoud board member Bruce Carroll attended the conference as a blogger.