CPAC Is Right

March 15, 2013

There's been a lot of criticism of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) for not inviting Republican Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bob McDonnell of Virginia to their annual conference this week. But the critics are wrong -- there's nothing inappropriate about CPAC's decision.

Christie was excluded for supposedly over-praising President Obama's response to Hurricane Sandy and agreeing to expand Medicaid, and McDonnell was shunned for including some new taxes in his transportation plan. It may seem self-defeating for Republicans to exclude these two generally conservative and highly popular governors, but CPAC is not the Republican Party. As their name announces, they are a conservative political organization that is pushing an ideological agenda. If they feel like Donald Trump and Virginia's far-right Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli better represents their views than Christie and McDonnell, that's who they should have speak at their conference.

Of course, that choice by CPAC may not sit well with some Republicans who are more interested in winning elections than ideological purity tests. Having a presidential nominee who can capture Virginia or New Jersey, both of which were won twice by President Obama, would seem to advance Republican and conservative causes a lot more than almost anything CPAC could achieve. But the Republican Party is now caught in the same trap that kept Democrats out of the White House for most of the 1970s and 80s. Activists in the Party are so caught up in their ideology, and so consumed by what they oppose, that they are preventing their nominees from winning many centrist voters. From McGovern through Mondale, the Left demanded so much of candidates that they became unappealing to the independent voters who swing elections. Now it is conservatives, like those who run CPAC, who are hobbling their party.

In both cases, the more ideological party was able to find success in congressional and state elections through a combination of gerrymandering, lower turnout, incumbency, and local issues. But their more extreme brand was exposed in the glaring spotlight of the presidential race. And it is true that the Republican Party today is strong at the state level and highly competitive in Congress. But if they want to win the White House again soon, they will need to limit their purity tests, and embrace popular potential candidates like Christie and McDonnell.

That, though, is not CPAC's problem. They're pushing a strictly conservative agenda and have a perfect right to exclude wild-eyed liberals like Christie and McDonnell.

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