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Mike Huckabee: CPAC Broken

cpac2012Mike Huckabee used some harsh words in explaining why he didn’t attend CPAC this year.

“CPAC has becoming increasingly more libertarian and less Republican over the last years, one of the reasons I didn’t go this year,” Huckabee said in an interview with Fox News, where he is a paid analyst and has his own show.

[…]

Huckabee said the rise of the tea party movement had “taken all of the oxygen out of the room,” rendering the venerable conference far less relevant than it had been in previous years.  “Where CPAC was historically the event, the tea parties are having their own events all over the country and a lot more truly grassroots people are getting involved because of the tea parties,” said the former governor.

And, goaded by Fox Host Geraldo Rivera, Huckabee went even further.

“Because of the way that it solicits sponsors, it’s almost becomes a pay-for-play,” he said. “It’s kind of like, who will pay money to be able to be a sponsor and get time in the program. That’s one of the things that has hurt its credibility in the last couple of years.”

But for all the enthusiasm in the hotel’s corridors, much of the rhetoric on stage felt oddly dated. For every Marco Rubio — the young Florida Senate candidate who is seen as by many conservatives as their future — there was the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, rambling about Clinton-era gun control battles and showing decade-old video clips of himself jousting with TV hosts on the big screens in the ballroom.

Frankly, all of that’s fair criticism, echoing my own thoughts over the last two or three CPACs.

The “C” in CPAC stands for “conservative,” so it’s not a great surprise that there’s a continuity over the years.  Some large part of the assembled attendees have never been before and there’s doubtless a great thrill in seeing some of their long-time heroes live.  But for many in the room, Ronald Reagan is as distant a historical figure as John Kennedy was when I was their age.  And Phyllis Schlafly’s battles over ERA and Wayne LaPierre’s skirmishes with Bill Clinton are about as relevant to them as the Checkers speech and Nixon and Kennedy squaring off over Quemoy and Matsu.

The infiltration of the Paulites and Tea Partiers at least lets some fresh air into the room.   But neither radical libertarianism nor nihilist populism are truly conservative, either.

Moreover, Huckabee inadvertently hits on the core issue when he says that “CPAC has becoming increasingly more libertarian and less Republican.”   To me, the fact that CPAC is Republican rather than conservative has been at the root of CPAC’s problems.  While there’s a strong overlap between the conservative movement and the GOP, the latter is a political party while the former is an ideology.   Too much of CPAC is devoted to taking cheap shots at Democratic officeholders current and past and too little to discussing what it means to be “conservative” in today’s climate.

Ronald Reagan and other great Movement heroes won a goodly number of battles, permanently turning “liberal” into a dirty word and limiting the tax debate to within a couple percentage points of where the top marginal rates were when Reagan left office.  While it’s worth banging these drums occasionally to preserve these wins, it’s foolish to keep acting as if it’s still 1980 and Jimmy Carter’s in the White House.  Conversely, some battles on the social front are lost causes and sitting athwart history yelling “go back!” is a futile exercise.   So, while I don’t expect the Movement to forget its past and come up with a radically new agenda each February, it has to evolve.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. kth says:

    Perhaps not a total coincidence, Huck had Michelle Obama on his show to discuss childhood obesity. Kind of a “uniter not a divider” move that’s totally out of step with the tea party insurgency. Perhaps Huckabee thinks that the rage will burn itself out relatively quickly, or merely that that’s not his style and he can’t win if that anger is the driving force for his party.

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  2. Ben says:

    Except that I don’t really think Ron Paul is a “radical libertarian”, James. He’s a “small l” libertarian if there ever was one. Although I do understand that even that seems radical to most republicans.

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  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Merriam-Webster’s definition 3b of “radical”:

    tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions

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  4. Moreover, Huckabee inadvertently hits on the core issue when he says that “CPAC has becoming increasingly more libertarian and less Republican.”

    He says that like it is a bad thing.

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  5. Brett says:

    Ronald Reagan and other great Movement heroes won a goodly number of battles, permanently turning “liberal” into a dirty word and limiting the tax debate to within a couple percentage points of where the top marginal rates were when Reagan left office. While it’s worth banging these drums occasionally to preserve these wins

    So it’s worth preserving the warping of a political label?

    Ah, well. We still have the better label-based insults in the form of “Conservatard” and “Republitard”.

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  6. Wayne says:

    Re “CPAC has becoming increasingly more libertarian and less Republican.”

    Perhaps the reason for that is that Republicans have become far less conservative.

    Re “Too much of CPAC is devoted to taking cheap shots at Democratic officeholders”

    Or perhaps they want the GOP to stand up for itself. When the GOP is accused of not compromising, what do they do? They sell out all their principles and give in to the DNC demands. This happens regardless of if they are in the minority or majority. What many of us want them to do is attack back. State that compromise is a two way street. Point out that the DNC is unwilling to compromise and use the DNC accusations back at them. Instead they lay down like lapdogs.

    Huckabee doesn’t like it because he avoids confrontational at almost any cost. It is ok to try to defuse situations but you need to stand by your principles at the same time.

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  7. […] as James Joyner notes, Huckabee actually makes a point that he didn’t intend to: Huckabee inadvertently hits on the core issue when he says that “CPAC has becoming increasingly […]

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  8. Triumph says:

    The only reason Mrs. Beasley Hucklebee is complaining is ’cause his sorry a$$ lost the straw poll. His dumb, tax-raising clownishness lost to Sarah Palin, for crissakes! He’s a loser and can’t take his loss like an American.

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  9. While it’s worth banging these drums occasionally to preserve these wins, it’s foolish to keep acting as if it’s still 1980 and Jimmy Carter’s in the White House.

    Well, it is true that it is no longer 1980.

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  10. The infiltration of the Paulites and Tea Partiers at least lets some fresh air into the room. But neither radical libertarianism nor nihilist populism are truly conservative, either.

    I had not realized that advocating limited government with enumerated powers was either nihilist or populist.

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  11. DavidL says:

    Mike Huckabee remains what he has always been a tax loving, big governmnet liberal, who happends to be pro-life. We already had one dope from Hope in the White Housa.

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