CPAC’s Social Conservative Presence: Existent, But Less Prominent
WASHINGTON –Social conservative groups may not be picking a fight with other factions of the conservative movement at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), but they will still have to continue to work hard to ensure their issues remain on the forefront of conservatives' minds in the conservative movement and as the 2012 election nears.
Tom Minnery, vice president of government and public policy at CitizenLink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family and co-sponsor of CPAC, thinks their presence has made the conference stronger than it would have been in their absence. As a co-sponsor, CitizenLink helped choose the forum topics and speakers—and snagged a prime spot in the exhibit hall.
Despite the buzz that CPAC has all pushed social conservative issues aside because of their inclusion of GOProud, a gay rights group, Minnery disagrees: "Not only are there good panels here that represent social conservative values but the speakers—like Rep. Michele Bachmann—do too."
Of the potential presidential candidates who have spoken thus far, most focused on issues related to China, spending, and criticizing President Obama. Bachmann gave the opening keynote and lambasted Obama for "socialist" tendencies; she did encourage social and fiscal conservatives to work together to elect conservative candidates in the next election. "We cannot shun each other for 2012," she said.
Though he received cheers to a reference to protecting the unborn in his Friday morning address, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney mostly criticized Obama for his failure to remedy the economic crisis. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, won the straw poll vote with 30 percent of the vote while Romney came in second with 23 percent. Other potential candidates came in around 4 percent, though former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee did not attend.
In an afternoon speech, Minnesota's former Gov. Tim Pawlenty fired up the crowd discussing everything from the debt ceiling to his compelling personal story to spending. Though he refrained from mentioning marriage or life issues, he encouraged conservatives to "turn towards God, not away from him."
Minnery also dispels the notion that the strong presence of the Tea Party here—a movement largely concerned with smaller government and lower taxes—conflicts with CitizenLink's purpose to promote traditional marriage, preserve religious liberty, and promote the sanctity of life. Though he never went so far as to say Focus on the Family and the Tea Party would join forces to elect fiscal and social conservatives in 2012, he finds their strong pro-life stance encouraging. (An April 2010 Gallup poll found 65% of Tea Partiers identify themselves as pro-life).
What about the presence of GOProud at CPAC? Minnery shrugged. "It is an anomaly. The way they've treated some of our fellow organizations that aren't here—like the Family Research Council –is unfortunate and doesn't build a spirit of unity." Minnery thinks voters will ultimately determine the fate of gay marriage, not a booth at CPAC.
There are multiple forums per day at CPAC, of them, only two panels on social conservative issues—one Thursday on marriage, one Friday on the pro-life movement—Minnery not only approved of the forums but he corrected me and said the judicial panel this morning, "The Left's Campaign to Reshape the Judiciary," belongs under the social conservative tent with marriage and life. During yesterday's panel "Traditional Marriage and Society," Minnery argued that one way to fight poverty is to encourage marriages that last.
Tim Goeglein, vice president of external relations at Focus on the Family, hosted today's forum, "The Pro-Life Movement: Plans and Goals." To a crowd of 200 people—relatively small considering the 11,000 attendees—he lauded the socially conservative awareness of the students present. "Your generation understands the tragedy of abortion like no generation before you…this is a new pro life movement with a gripping story to tell."
Erin DeLullo, a forum speaker and consultant with LifeandMarriage.com, encouraged social conservatives to work as hard as fiscal conservatives do to elect like-minded politicians. At the same time, she called out Governor Mitch Daniels—who has called for a truce with social conservative issues until economic issues are resolved—and said "the right to life cannot be put on the backburner." The audience cheered.
One of those audience members cheering was Andrew Schantz, a student at the University of
Michigan who came to CPAC for the first time this year and sat in on the forum because of his interest in social conservative issues. He thinks the country's economic crisis has actually boosted support for socially conservative issues. "I think people are returning more to social conservative views because times are hard. It kind of alleviates the economic crisis, focusing on things that are less materialistic and that will make a real impact on the future."
As for the friction purported to exist here at CPAC between the social conservatives and other groups such as GOProud, Schantz feels like that's a misunderstanding. "I don't feel like there's tension. It's just that people have different priorities. It's much harder to change people's minds about socially conservative than fiscal issues so it takes more of a fighting spirit."
This year, some—the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, and Senator Jim DeMint, to name a few—chose to take their socially conservatives values and fight elsewhere, boycotting CPAC because GOProud's presence.
Strong social conservatives and the values they represent were not absent at CPAC, but they appeared to have been pushed to the back of the room. Depending on the perspective of social conservatives and their fighting spirit, that's either just an opportunity to move to the front or, at the least, mingle with the others present.