In just over a week, thousands of conservatives will gather at the Gaylord National Resort Hotel and Convention Center at National Harbor in Maryland, just outside Washington D.C. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) moved this year to the new location to accommodate more guests after a record-breaking attendance last year.
The conference will feature most of the forerunners of the conservative movement, providing an opportunity for potential presidential nominees to test the waters. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin look to be strong possibilities for a 2016 race.
Former contenders such as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich of Georgia, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry will also make appearances.
In addition, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, after nearly four months of silence, will appear publicly for the first time since the election. Though the details of his speech are largely unknown, most speculate that Romney will not use CPAC as an opportunity to make a farewell speech. Instead, he is expected to re-energize the future of conservatism, though speculation abounds about how he will accomplish this task.
Romney’s speech ties in perfectly with the conference’s theme, “America’s Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives.” In the past, over 50 percent of the conference’s attendees have been under the age of 24, and discounted ticket prices for that age bracket reflect a continuing desire to attract students and young professionals. The speeches will focus on redefining the message, likely in similar terms to Sen. Ted Cruz’s message of “opportunity conservatism.” Sen. Cruz will stress similar points in his closing address at the conference.
However, the conference is not without its drama. Perhaps most notable is CPAC’s decision to refrain from extending an invitation to Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.
The decision to leave Christie off the speaking list was likely influenced by his perceived friendship with President Obama, in addition to his leaning left on key positions such as gun control and global warming. Although some applaud the decision, most analysts believe it was a mistake. Prominent conservative columnist, Jonah Goldberg, argues,
“The problem is that CPAC is the first bottleneck in the Republican presidential pipeline, and at precisely the moment the party should be making every effort to be — or at least seem! — as open as possible to differing points of view, it’s chosen to exclude the most popular governor in the country.”
Christie was not the only one snubbed by CPAC. Conservative gay-rights group GOProud was not invited to the conference for the second year in a row, prompting considerable outrage from both liberal and conservative columnists, especially on an issue that resonates with many young people.
Although CPAC promises to reignite the future of conservatism, the exclusions of Christie and GOProud have already caused major setbacks. The challenge ahead is to present strong messages that can overcome these obstacles and motivate the next generation of conservatives.