In the bowels of the National Harbor convention center in suburban Maryland on Thursday, a nonprofit called Empact America schooled attendees about the threat of a terrorist attack by way of an electromagnetic pulse. Former Reagan Defense Department official Frank Gaffney articulated his view that anti-tax activist and American Conservative Union board member Grover Norquist is an undercover agent for the Muslim Brotherhood. Ginni Thomas, a Daily Caller contributor and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, alleged that President Barack Obama may be guilty of providing material support for terrorism. At least one panelist suggested that Speaker of the House John Boehner was a part of the Benghazi cover-up. (Who can say?)
But this gathering of very concerned right-wingers wasn't an official part of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference underway in the same facility. The panelists were the "uninvited"—a motley crew of conservative activists who had been shunned by CPAC organizers and assembled, for the second consecutive year, as a sort of shadow convention by Breitbart News. After building a reputation for catering to conspiracy theorists and bigots (especially during the first five years of the Obama administration), CPAC, the nation's largest annual conservative political shindig, seems to have turned down the volume.
That is, CPAC is getting soft.
Just consider the recent history. In 2012, CPAC organizers opened up their conference to folks like John Derbyshire (since fired from the National Review for telling his kids to avoid black people), and the founder of VDare.com, celebrating the first English child born in North America. Last year, Wayne Allyn Root, who attempted to swing the 2012 election by claiming Obama attended Columbia as a foreign exchange student, spoke from a CPAC side stage. Three years ago, Thomas Woods, a founder of the secessionist group League of the South, spoke at a CPAC breakout session and held a book signing. Last year, a Fox News commentator made a rape joke about a rape victim. There have even been CPAC panels on the supposed Muslim Brotherhood takeover of CPAC.
None of these figures appear on the CPAC schedule this year. Nor does Pamela Geller, who once published a scoop claiming that Obama was the secret love child of Malcolm X. She was exiled from CPAC in 2013. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a leader of the movement that believes the conservative movement is being co-opted by stealth Islamists, didn't make the trip this year. Bishop Harry Jackson, who claims gays are trying to "recruit" children, is nowhere in sight, even though he's from suburban Maryland. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the Republican party's most prominent anti-immigrant voice, didn't get a speaking slot.
Oh, at this year's CPAC there was still the Georgia man who travels the country dressed up as Declaration of Independence signer Button Gwinnett. There were plenty of bow ties. And two college-age bros walked around in American-flag boxers and boat shoes—which is to say, they walked around like college-age bros. CPAC was still, very noticeably, CPAC. There was the now-annual controversy about refusing to allow an LGBT conservative group, GOProud, to cosponsor the conference. Donald Trump was there, Donald Trumping.
But for the first time in a long while, the lunatics haven't taken over the CPAC asylum. At least not yet.
BOBBY JINDAL has never been one to wait. And so in November 2012, just one week after Barack Obama was reelected in a race the conservative establishment had long refused to believe it might lose, the 41-year-old governor of Louisiana stuck a knife in Mitt Romney's back.
The party's old guard was reeling and Jindal seemed poised to take advantage and confirm that he was a contender to lead the party in 2016. In winning a second gubernatorial term one year earlier, Jindal had crushed his top Democratic challenger by nearly 50 points, helping Republicans take control of the state Senate for the first time since Reconstruction. As Romney exited the national stage, Jindal was locking down the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), a perch that is generally considered a steppingstone to bigger things because of its access to a national network of conservative donors. And in his personal story and ethnic heritage, he offered a walking counterpoint to his party's demographic stagnation.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) easily topped the 50-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff in Tuesday's Republican Senate primary. Two years after tea party activists helped send Ted Cruz to Washington, Cornyn escaped unscathed, and will almost certainly win another term in November. Heading into the primary, the only real drama was whether his opponent, Rep. Steve Stockman, would even vote for himself—Stockman hasn't voted in a GOP primary election since 2004, which includes both the preliminary and runoff elections in his victorious 2012 campaign.
The Stockman campaign defied convention, often spectacularly so. He made what the Dallas Morning News called a "rare public appearance" on January 14, and then he disappeared. He wasn't seen for days, during which time he missed 17 consecutive votes and his House office refused to say where he was. Then his staff switched gears, revealing that he had been in Russia, Egypt, and Israel and chiding American reporters for not paying attention to a press conference he'd held overseas. He came back in time for the State of the Union, only to theatrically storm out midway through.
His campaign office was literally condemned. His staff, such as it was, refused to alert reporters to upcoming public events, which may have been because there weren't any. Seriously—try to find any record that he held one in the last two months. The closest thing to a Stockman campaign effort was a fake newspaper, sent to conservative mail boxes, which quoted Stockman's campaign literature about Cornyn verbatim, but which the Stockman campaign claimed it had nothing to do with. He filed a libel lawsuit against a pro-Cornyn PAC for alleging he had been jail and charged with a felony for drug possession, despite admitting in 1995 to these allegations in an interview. And he just cold stopped filing campaign finance reports. He raised virtually no money, nor is it clear what, if anything, his campaign spent its cash on. He didn't run any TV ads. He claimed he had been endorsed by the Tea Party Patriots, when the group had done nothing of the sort.
But the amazing thing about Stockman isn't his total refusal to campaign—it's that this is the first time this strategy has failed him. Consider this Houston Chronicle story from 2012:
Steve Stockman, 55, who served one term in Congress in the 1990s, spurns most public events and candidate forums and rarely talks to news media. Instead, he has blanketed the East Texas district with fake tabloid newspapers emblazoned with such headlines as "[Republican rival] Stephen Takach drove family friend into bankruptcy," "Gunowners Furious as Takach sides with 'gun grabbers'" (Sheila Jackson Lee, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi) and "Takach smears Stockman for taking care of his Alzheimer's-stricken father."
Sound familiar? Stockman beat Takach. And he went on to win the general election by 44 points, operating out of a garage. He used the same newspaper strategy when he was elected to the House in 1994, too—though he also denied involvement at the time, even though it was being printed at his home address.
Stockman will leave behind no political legacy, unless you were one of the lucky few to receive an "If Babies Had Guns They Wouldn't Be Aborted" bumper sticker. If you were one of a handful of Texans who donated to his campaign, you would have been better served lighting your money on fire. But he was, nonetheless, a trailblazer. We salute you, Steve Stockman, pioneer of the uncampaign.
On Friday, after a one-year delay, Bill Clinton's presidential library posted thousands of pages of previously unreleased documents. It's mostly inside baseball stuff, but there are some useful nuggets. For instance, a 1998 memo written by White House speechwriter Jeff Shesol recounts a proposal by then-Clinton-aide Rahm Emanuel (who went on to be President Barack Obama's chief of staff and is now mayor of Chicago) for dealing with National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston, in a speech heralding a new bulletproof vest law: "Shove it up his ass."
Here's something you don't see every day: A major ad buy in a swing congressional district about...rising sea levels. A special election in Florida's 13th congressional district is scheduled for March 11, and the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club are spending $350,000 attacking Republican candidate Dave Jolly for his recent comments on climate change. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Jolly said, "I don't think the impact that humans have had on our climate is so dramatic as it requires a significant shift in federal policy."
Here's the text:
Ignore the storms. Ignore polar cold. Ignore sea levels rising all around us. Ignore climate change. That's David Jolly's view. But Gulf tides are rising, and the risk of flooding has doubled. NASA and the U.S. military agree: Pinellas needs to prepare. The Times says Jolly's wrong on climate change—that Jolly should go back to his "science books and learn some facts." David Jolly. Back to school, not to Congress.
It's not unusual to see the LCV pushing politicians to focus on climate change, but with the race a virtual toss-up, is a sign that environmental groups view it as a winning issue—even in a district that's been represented by a Republican every year since 1982.