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Conservative gathering highlights GOP divisions

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Saturday, March 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Saturday, March 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

If there was any doubt that there is a huge amount of discord within the Republican Party, the three-day Conservative Political Action Conference should put it to rest.

The suburban Washington, D.C., gathering of the most conservative elements of the GOP this week featured speaker after speaker picking fights with other Republicans and offering criticisms – sometimes indirect and often direct – of party figures such as Mitt Romney, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, Karl Rove, former president George W. Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Most of the speakers urged Republicans not to change but rather to double down on conservative principles. They included keynote speaker Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a leader of the new generation of Republicans whom McCain recently labeled “wacko birds.”

“If standing for liberty and standing for the Constitution means you’re a wacko bird, then count me a proud wacko bird,” Cruz said yesterday. “I think there are more than a few other wacko birds gathered here today.”

Cruz also argued that the party’s new generation is starting to gain traction, pointing to Sen. Rand Paul – who had just won the presidential straw poll – and his 13-hour filibuster this month against President Obama’s drone program, along with the spending cuts contained in the sequester that took effect at the start of the month.

“For the last three weeks, conservatives have been winning,” Cruz said.

The discord, while nothing new for the party, is particularly noteworthy as it seeks its way forward after a disappointing 2012 election.

Republican officials unhappy with their losses have begun to push for a new core message and changes or moderation on social issues and illegal immigration.

Two recent events have inflamed that debate. First was the launch of a new group headed by Rove that seeks to recruit and nominate more electable Republican candidates, which conservatives see as a veiled attempt to elect less-conservative Republicans. Second was Paul’s filibuster, which earned the ire of foreign policy hawks like McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican. McCain has since apologized for his “wacko birds” comment, but he was booed several times at CPAC.

The speakers at CPAC were united against the McCain and Rove element in the party, picking on them repeatedly and suggesting that conservative principles would win the day if the party stuck with them.

“We do know deep down, as Ronald Reagan did, that we don’t have to change because . . . we know that we’re right and they’re wrong,” said David Keene, the president of the National Rifle Association and the former chairman of the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been a frequent critic of Rove’s new Conservative Victory Project, urged Republicans not to change their principles but instead propose new ideas.

“The Republican establishment is just plain wrong about how it approaches politics,” Gingrich said. “The Republican consulting class is just plain wrong about how it approaches politics.”

Former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin was more direct, suggesting Rove head back to Texas, where he helped launch George W. Bush’s political career.

“The last thing we need is Washington, D.C., vetting our candidates,” Palin said. “The architects can head on back to the Lone Star State and put their names on some ballot.”

While Cruz was the keynote speaker, Palin riled the crowd up more than anybody, delivering a blistering attack on Obama with a string of one-liners.

“Barack Obama promised the most transparent administration ever. Barack Obama: You lie!” she said, alluding to the 2009 incident in which a House member yelled “you lie” at Obama during a speech before Congress.

The crowd went wild when Palin paused mid-speech, produced a Big Gulp from
beneath the lectern and mugged for the camera while taking a long sip. Conservatives have savaged New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a political independent, for his proposed ban on sugary beverages of more than 16 ounces.

Legacy Comments1

Has anyone else noted Sen Rob Portman's support for gay marriage announced on Friday? This is just one issue where the tide is turning very quickly. CPAC may want to double down on these issues but they're going to find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion by 2014. We all know that the evangelists are one of the bases of the GOP. They will never concede on gay marriage. So the GOP can either upset the moderate independents or the evangelists. They need both to win. What to do GOP, what to do?

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