This year’s CPAC was particularly energetic given the political disaster that awaits Democrats this November. But thanks in large part to the Tea Party movement, another very important theme emerged among several speakers at this year’s conference. Republicans finally acknowledged how far they have deviated from their core principles. They are publicly admitting that George W. Bush was not a fiscal conservative and that progressivism within the party renders them indistinguishable from the Democrats. This is an enormous step forward.
Ron Paul, not surprisingly, chided Republicans over the same issues he raised during his 2008 run for the Republican nomination. “Though we’ve certainly gotten ourselves into a mess because the Conservative movement that was designed to bring us back to our roots, like limited government, smaller government, more individual liberty; it hasn’t happened,” said Paul. “And now, since we did not do the job we were supposed to do, the opposition has taken over and guess what, they’re criticizing the Republicans and the Conservatives for not having balanced the budget.”
Jim DeMint also addressed the issue of conservative cohesiveness, saying, “I’ve been criticized by some of my Republican colleagues for saying I’d rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who believe in the principles of freedom than 60 who don’t believe in anything. Let me make myself even clearer: I’d rather have 30 Marco Rubios in the Senate than 60 Arlen Specters.”
Glenn Beck keynoted the conference, also addressing the same issue. “This is the disease in America. It’s not just spending. It’s not just taxes. It’s not just corruption. It is progressivism. And it is in both parties. It is in the Republicans and the Democrats.” Beck added, “Dick Cheney, a couple of days ago was here, and he says it’s going to be a good year for conservative ideas. That’s true. That’s very true. It’s going to be a very good year. But it’s not enough just to not suck as much as the other side.”
This year’s CPAC embraced Tea Party ideologies and may have changed many people’s perspectives about conservatives and the Republican Party. While rank-and-file Republicans probably did not appreciate the admonitions, these public exhortations for a return to core conservative values comes at a time when third-party candidacies could threaten the Party’s efforts to recapture one or both houses of Congress. The self-examination we saw at CPAC was a huge step in the right direction and could go a long way toward galvanizing the party.