Next week the conservative movement receives its annual check-up in National Harbor, Md. The three-day exam known as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will feature speeches and panels starring the Who’s Who of political conservatism.
If one is considering a run for the White House in 2016, more than likely that potential candidate will either be speaking or glad-handing. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, former governors Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, current governors Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal, Sen. Rand Paul, Congressman Paul Ryan and, oh yes, Sen. Marco Rubio are all on the agenda.
Two other potential candidates stand out. One, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, will face a largely skeptical audience, who many believe is not a true conservative. Christie’s mission is to prove that he is conservative enough.
He may not spend any time addressing his “embrace” of President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, but that gesture is an anvil around his neck among some conservatives. Floridians, especially Charlie Crist, have witnessed what such a gesture can mean politically to a candidate for high federal office.
Another potential candidate, but not slated to speak as of right now, is Jeb Bush. Despite receiving good receptions before, including last year, he will not attend.
The impact of his absence may be measured on the last day when CPAC announces the results of its straw poll of presidential candidates. If Bush receives top five support while absent, that may say a great deal about him. It might also say just as much about the field.
Bush left his mark on issues normally favoring Democrats such as education and immigration reform as well as Everglades restoration. He has also taken hits within the conservative movement for some of his stances, but few argue about his strong leadership skills, especially in times of crisis and disaster.
Ron Paul’s previous CPAC poll domination transferred to his son in 2013 with Rand Paul edging Marco Rubio by 25 to 23 percent. Rubio is not expected to poll nearly as high this year after conservative disappointment with his original stance on immigration reform.
Florida makes significant contributions to CPAC. Former Congressman Col. Allen West is still a star. Rubio has rocked the room for the past four years. The first regional CPAC conference held outside of the Washington, D.C. area was in Orlando in 2011.
The Chairman of the American Conservative Union, who puts on CPAC, is former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Al Cardenas. Since he became chairman in 2011, CPAC outgrew its former home at the Marriott Wardham Park in Washington to the palatial Gaylord National Harbor in 2013.
Make no mistake that Republicans and the conservative movement have much in common, but there is a disconnect on tactics. Congressional Republican leadership is taking friendly fire. At this time, neither House Speaker John Boehner, nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is on the agenda to speak at CPAC. They may be announced at the last minute or could be choosing to stay away this year.
Republicans still have a lot going for them. The GOP and conservatives can thank Obamacare for providing a unifying rallying cry. Christie, a moderate, is breaking fundraising records as head of the Republican Governor’s Association.
Several Democratic-held Senate seats are in prime position to be flipped. Democrats are running from the President in droves.
The speeches will hit Democrats and liberals hard. But, if CPAC cocktail talk centers more on the shortcomings of Republicans, then the GOP goal of gaining a Senate majority becomes much tougher.
Christie’s remarks to CPAC will be newsworthy. He will try to lay out a blueprint for a unified agenda while distancing himself from Obama. If he is successful, that can help start the GOP on a re-set of the electoral dynamics. Remember that this guy won twice in one of the bluest of blue states.
No matter what happens next week, Republicans have some work to do. Despite this, they would rather be where they are heading into 2014 than where the Democrats find themselves. Signs point to a wave election in 2014.
If Republicans somehow get on the same page, it can be a tidal wave. If not, it might be nothing more than the tide going in and out.
Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant living in Tallahassee.