How conservative is CPAC? That’s the question on the minds and lips of many at the Conservative Political Action Conference taking place this weekend at the Gaylord National Harbor Convention Center just outside Washington. And it’s a good question for a group that put New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and businessman Donald Trump on the platform. The good news is that the homosexual group GOProud is no longer an event sponsor, which it was in 2010 and 2011. Groups that care about social issues boycotted CPAC—most notably the Heritage Foundation—in 2012, and that made a difference. This year, Heritage is back, and GOProud is not.
Whither immigration reform? The discussion that generated the biggest buzz yesterday happened during the immigration panel, “Can There Be Meaningful Immigration Without Citizenship?” Panelists included Helen Krieble of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation, Rev. Luis Cortes Jr. of Esperanza, Alfonao Aguilar of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, and Derrick Morgan of Heritage Foundation. According to The Daily Caller, “Morgan is the only panelist who opposes legalizing illegal immigrants before the border is secured.” That caused Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, to say CPAC should drop the word “conservative” from its name. “You have to wonder when a self-described conservative organization stacks an immigration panel with amnesty advocates,” Smith said in a statement. “For the second year in a row, CPAC has featured a panel where all but one speaker supports the agenda of liberal Democrats and the liberal national media.” Or, it could be that immigration reform is becoming a conservative issue. The American Conservative Union’s president, Al Cardenas, is a strong supporter of immigration reform, proposing a path to citizenship—or at least to legalization—for undocumented immigrants. Another strong supporter of immigration reform is radio talk show host Michael Medved, who has been broadcasting from CPAC. He supports what he calls a “tall fence but a wide gate” for “freedom lovers,” no matter where they come from in the world.
Conservative atheist. I had a chance to chat with the president of American Atheists, David Silverman, who often debates Christian apologists. He was not an official CPAC sponsor, but he staked out a prominent place on Radio Row and was passing out literature saying it is possible to be both a conservative and an atheist. “I am a conservative, on fiscal issues,” he told me. I asked him about his debates with Christians, and he said, “Christians have been very nice to me. I get a lot of ‘I’m praying for you’ and “God bless yous.’” After a brief conversation, I said, “David, God bless you, and I’ll be praying for you.” He laughed and said, “You just had to get that in, didn’t you?”
Religious liberty. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal made a point of addressing religious liberty during his speech at CPAC. “We’ve got a government so big it is infringing on our religious freedoms,” he said. He brought cheers from the crowd by highlighting the Hobby Lobby case and the Robertson family of the hit TV show Duck Dynasty. “This great country didn’t create religious liberty and freedom. Religious liberty and freedom created this great country,” he said. Though Jindal expressed concern about the federal government’s overreach, he nonetheless concluded, “I’m absolutely convinced our best days are ahead of us, not behind us,” if we follow “the genius of the founding fathers … to trust the people.”