Where Have All The Conservatives Gone?

| Mon Feb. 23, 2009 12:58 AM EST

Where have all the conservatives gone?

Oh, they're out there, trying to taint the Obama stimulus by tagging it as wasteful spending (even while accepting the funds). But as S.E. Cupp, a rightwing author and commentator, reports, this year's Conservative Political Action Conference is notably short on rightwing starpower. She writes:

A number of the party's biggest names, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, aren't on the speakers' list so far, either. And Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- the Angelina Jolie of the GOP -- will address the conference only via video.

For those hoping that Sarah Palin will run for president, this may be bad news. In years past, GOP presidential wannabes--even moderates--flocked to CPAC to court (or kowtow to) their party's most ardent grassroots activists. The group usually holds a straw poll, and a good showing--or just a decent appearance before the crowd--could generate presidential buzz for a potential candidate within the politerait and conservative circles. (Is it possible that Palin has decided that the wise thing to do as a 2012 contender is to not attend and avoid placing herself once again in a spotlight that could show her shortcomings?) This year, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Pence--don't know Mike Pence? he's a leading conservative congressman--will be at CPAC, but Cupp bemoans the absence of bigger box office draws. Does that mean she's disappointed that California Governor Arnold "Give Me that Stimulus Money" Schwarzenegger won't be attending?

Her gripe, it seems, is not really with the line-up. It's with the "feel" of the conference; there's no excitement about conservatives these days, she complains. Well, wake up and smell the economic collapse. If there was ever a cornerstone of conservatism, it was free-market fetishism. And that's a really tough sell nowadays. In noting what to expect at this year's CPAC, she reports:

We just elected Michael Steele the first African American head of the Republican National Committee. CPAC will be his first major public appearance and a chance to show what kind of leader he'll be. Republican lawmakers will weigh in on the stimulus bill, discuss their still-fresh experiences dealing with the Obama administration and tell us what they think we need to do while the Democrats are in power.

Conservative bloggers and activists will lay out the grass-roots efforts we can make to reach new voters, or those who abandoned us last year. Young Republican chapters will reach out to high school and college students and ponder what they might do to get a piece of the youth voter pie.

Wow, grassroots networking. But what's the right going to do about convincing the American public we ought to have less regulation, less government and more free enterprise? Or about reviving the culture wars? She doesn't really address these fundamental matters. Conservatives held power in Congress from 1995 through 2006, and a self-proclaimed conservative was in the White House from 2001 to 2009. They had a damn good chance and blew it big--twice. Will there be a panel discussion on that? More important, can one conference deal with the fact that the basic tenets of conservatism have been rendered irrelevant and inoperative? Probably not. But maybe at least Huckabee will whip out his bass and rock on.

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