Mike Huckabee: CPAC Broken
Mike 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.