Dave Keene, chairman of The American Conservative Union, says that conservatives are galvanized and ready to fight after the Nov. 4 elections.
Keene tells Newsmax that nowhere is this take-charge attitude going to present itself more than at the next Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) meeting — which is already reporting a 40 percent increase in registrations over last year.
Moreover, Gov. Sarah Palin plans to speak at the meeting, which is slated for Feb. 26 through Feb. 28 at the Omni Shoreham in Washington.
The crown jewel of the conservative movement, CPAC brings together conservative leaders, grass-roots activists, and college conservatives to exchange ideas and strategies and whip up enthusiasm. It will be widely covered by the press.
Keene, whose American Conservative Union sponsors the event, tells Newsmax that setbacks to Republicans have always brought together conservatives, resulting in higher attendance at CPAC.
“We had about 7,000 people at CPAC last year,” Keene says. “This year’s registration, particularly among college students or young professionals just out of college, is running better than 40 percent ahead of last year, which doesn’t surprise us. That’s because CPAC sends an important signal to the rest of the political community and to the media that conservatives are energized and ready to fight.”
After a loss, “Conservatives are not prone to lie down but to reorganize, get ready for the next contest, and go forward. In the past, some of our most successful CPACs have been after we lost an election,” Keene says.
He cites Ronald Reagan’s speech at the 1975 CPAC, when the future president said, “I don’t know about you, but I am impatient with those Republicans who after the last election rushed into print saying, ‘We must broaden the base of our party’ — when what they meant was to fuzz up and blur even more the differences between ourselves and our opponents.”
Rather than a third party, Reagan called for a “new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people.”
Keene says that that revitalization led to Reagan’s win: “That resulted in his challenge to the incumbent president in 1976 and ultimately his election in 1980,” adding, “That CPAC, as you’ll recall, came after one of the biggest disasters because of Watergate and President Nixon’s unpopularity that Republicans had ever faced.”
Keene says conservatives react to defeat that way because “they feel strongly about the principles that brought them into politics in the first place.” He says he doesn’t know anyone on the conservative side “who got into it for a job or got into politics because it was the way to make their way in life.”
Rather, Keene says, “They got into it and got involved in politics, usually at a relatively young age, not just because of the excitement, not just because of the opportunities, not just because they wanted to come to Washington or to some state capital, but because they had come to the conclusion that the conservative principles of limited government, low taxation and individual freedom were things that were important — important to them, important to the country, and important to the future.”
People who believe in those principles “are not going to give up because they’ve lost the battle,” Keene observes. “They know that you can lose today and win tomorrow. And they know also that if you lie down and don’t do your part, then you’re not going to have the kind of country in the future that we want.”
Keene says Palin was going to speak at CPAC last year for the first time, but because of a special legislative session in Alaska, she had to cancel at the last minute.
When Palin canceled, “She told us that she’d be there this year, and as soon as the election was over, she had her office call to confirm that she will in fact be with us in 2009,” Keene says.
At this, the 36th annual CPAC conference, Keene notes, “We’re going to focus more on younger conservatives and on the importance of communications through new technologies that perhaps the liberals have gotten the jump on conservatives with in the last few years.”
The 2009 conference will also focus on “principled young conservatives in Congress and in state governments much more than we have in the past, because one of the functions of CPAC is to introduce the conservative community — the conservative family if you will — to new people who will provide leadership in the future,” Keene adds.
Besides Palin, Mitt Romney, Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., among others, have agreed to speak at CPAC. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana likely will also appear.
When the first CPAC was held in 1973, only123 people attended.
“Over the years,” Keene says, “it’s grown and gotten more and more important, not just as a way for conservatives to get together on an annual basis and sort of share what works and what doesn’t work, not just as a way for conservatives to meet some of these new people that are going to carry the conservative banner into the future, but also as a way in which conservatives can show the rest of the political community that they’re there, that they’re tireless, and that they’re ready to go to work.”
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