CPAC boycotters respond
Yesterday I wrote about the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) boycott. I received a call from a conservative PR firm representing several social conservative groups that wanted their side of the boycott presented. I spoke by phone this morning with Andy Blom, head of the American Principles Project.
The group has only been in existence for two years, and it's not clear what size constituency it has. Blom conceded that it is "not a membership organization" but he claims a mailing list of 40,000 in Iowa alone.
I asked about his letter to CPAC organizers. Does he object to other "identity" groups? No. He explains that he has run the successful "Latino Project" and excoriates fellow conservatives for their failure to reach out to Hispanics and for their inflammatory rhetoric. He argues that this is different from GOProud's inclusion in CPAC because Hispanics embrace social conservative values and aren't out to "set up the Hispanic wing of the Republican Party." He says gays should just join economic conservative groups like Americans for Tax Reform. But hasn't GOProud supported pro-life activities? He concedes that "they have attempted to align themselves with the Susan B. Anthony group, but that was from an economic perspective." He is referring to opposition to taxpayer funded abortions, a central issue for social conservative groups.
In the letter he refers to William F. Buckley, Jr.'s successful effort to throw the John Birch Society out of the GOP. Is he making an analogy? He first hedges, saying that he is "not in any way suggesting the groups have like ideas." But is he making the case that it is as important to toss out GOProud as it was to jettison the Birchers? He says bluntly, "Yes." It's far from clear that the majority of conservatives would agree with that formulation.
What if all the 2012 presidential candidates show up? He says his group has not reached out to the candidates to ask that they not attend. But, he concedes, "We'd be very happy to have them all boycott it." He nevertheless is realistic that it's not in the cards. So, he says the next best thing would to have them appear and "take this on." Why then doesn't his group show up and take on the GOProud issue? He seems to suggest his organization doesn't have much sway. He contends, "They [the candidates] have a forum we wouldn't have." Later in the interview he comes back to the strategy of boycotting, saying that had his group shown up and argued their case "the story wouldn't have made it out of the party. We would not have been able to draw attention to the issue."
The goal here is plainly to assert the relevance of social conservative issues. He vows that candidates will "take it on the chin" if they ignore social issues or favor a "truce." Is he referring to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels? Blom is dismissive. "We are not as confused as he is. He said he wanted a 'truce.' Then he had a stumbling explanation that he wasn't calling for a truce." Blom asserts, "The other side is not considering a truce." He argues that this phrase "sends a signal" that conservatives will give in on social issues. By doing this, he claims that candidates would be "dramatically weakening any chance they have." His group has now sent out a letter criticizing CPAC for including Daniels in the program, calling it an "affront to millions of conservatives." He even claims that "if marriage falls, the next attack will be on religious freedom." He doesn't explain how that would play out.
But why not show up and make all those arguments, just as Ron Paul's supporters did? He then lashes out at the Paul followers, saying they made it difficult to get into meetings. He says the Paul supporters attendance "was not a positive thing." He even goes so far as to say attendance doesn't matter. "So long as CPAC is willing to give out scholarships to college students, give them free hotels and interesting speakers in the middle of winter, you're going to get them." Perhaps anticipating a strong attendance regardless of the boycott, he contends that lots of people have already made their reservations or don't even know about the issue. (This seems to contradict his assertion that his strategy successfully raised awareness of their group's complaint).
Will he picket the event? He says only, "We are not done. We will be doing more."
The question remains: Is all of this actually helping Blom's cause? Perhaps there is a different goal in mind. He concedes that the boycott is part of a larger effort "about establishing an alternative to CPAC." For now, there is no sign that CPAC is endangered as one of the premiere conservative events of the year or that presidential hopefuls are inclined to encourage boycott tactics.
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