Nearly 9,000 will be in attendance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) annual meeting — an increase of more than 40 percent over last year.
The message from Dave Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, couldn’t be clearer: If conservatives adhere to their fundamental principles and do not compromise them for political expediency, they will soon win again.
If Keene’s message sounds familiar, it should: It is the same as Ronald Reagan’s five years before Reagan was elected president: “We have been through a disastrous election. It is easy for us to be discouraged, as pundits hail that election as a repudiation of our philosophy and even as a mandate . . .”
So said Reagan when appearing at CPAC in March 1975. Reagan was referring to crushing Republican defeats in the House and Senate in the election of the previous November.
Back then, about 200 people attended CPAC.
One of the country’s most astute political observers, Keene tells Newsmax that voters last November did not reject conservative values. Over all, voters are “marginally” right of center, he notes. Recognizing that, Barack Obama ran a largely centrist campaign.
Rather, as Keene put it at a speech at the National Press Club this week, Republicans in Congress “became specialists in earmarks” and in “huge increases in discretionary spending.” Voters wanted to “replace the people — not the values and political goals.”
Reagan spoke at CPAC 12 times. At one of his earliest appearances, he said to Keene, “The only thing I want from you is a promise that you’ll never make this too expensive for the people that really do the work.” As a result, CPAC’s student registration fee for the three-day conference is $15.
This year CPAC, which will be held at Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel, will take in about $1.1 million from attendance fees and co-sponsorships. The conference often just breaks even or has lost money, and when it loses money, cash has to be raised to cover the shortfall. So Keene is working to raise $2 million as an endowment for the American Conservative Union Foundation, which actually sponsors CPAC.
Because CPAC keeps expanding, the conference will be held next year at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park hotel, whose ballroom holds two-and-a-half times more people than the one at the Omni. Besides major speeches in the ballroom, CPAC features panels focusing on issues, workshops on campaign techniques, booths run by more than 90 co-sponsors, and receptions and dinners.
Behind the scenes, people lobby fiercely to be invited to speak or to have others invited.
“I’ve gotten as many as 25 or 35 calls pushing a speaker or rejecting him,” Keene tells me. If he bowed to pressure, Keene says, that would be the end of CPAC’s integrity.
The keynote speaker this year is Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., whom Keene calls the smartest member of the Republican House caucus. One reason he is smart: Ryan turned down requests from other congressmen to run for House minority leader, allowing him to operate more freely.
Sarah Palin will appear in a video, and Mitt Romney will speak. Despite recent media attention on Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Keene calls Palin and Romney the two most likely Republican presidential candidates for 2010.
Like most Americans, Keene says he wants Obama to succeed in his attempt to solve the country’s economic problems. But Keene observes that Obama’s policies and missteps have been helping Republicans.
Moreover, Republican defeats last November have energized conservatives, as demonstrated by this year’s 40 percent increase in CPAC attendance, he says.
An economic recovery could well be followed by “Obama’s stagflation,” Keene says. “That may or may not occur between now and October 2010. If it does occur, politically, Democrats will be in very serious trouble. If it doesn’t occur, then they’ll be able to ride it through. But if you’re a conservative, and if you’re a Republican, you believe all that will happen.”
In short, Keene is as optimistic about Republican prospects as Reagan was before he was elected to two terms in the White House.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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