Whether or not a candidate is participating in CPAC should not be a criteria for who is running in 2012 or predicting how they will do in the Iowa Caucus a year from now. One of my contributors, David Shedlock, has pointed out that the boycott of CPAC has done little to dissuade candidates from going to speak. That is understandable since it is still a large gathering with a lot of media and blogger attention and a chance to speak to a lot of conservatives in one room. Few who will be in attendance have anything to do with the controversy present at CPAC this year as Don Feder sums up in six words – “gays, Grover, knee-jerk libertarianism, and Islamist connections.” More on this here, here and here.
I understand why people want to attend, and why it is still a big venue. It is an institution, and thus people defend it. Full disclosure, I work for one of the organizations boycotting this year, American Principles Project, and appreciate the decision they made. I consider it a principled stand, but if I had the means and opportunity to go, as a blogger, it would be a difficult decision to bypass the conference because of the speakers and networking opportunity. So I don’t begrudge anyone who decides to go and I understand the arguments of those who say conservatives shouldn’t boycott and the points of those who say we should.
These organizations and bloggers who do boycott are taking a free market approach to where they spend their conference money. I know some will participate in the Values Voters Summit, American Principles Project and others will be heading to the Tea Party Patriots American Policy Summit, and others will be headed to the Republican Leadership Conference (formerly known as the Southern Republican Leadership Conference).
My point? There are other options, and CPAC and the American Conservative Union has lost it’s luster. It is one event among many. This is why I was surprised when my friend Craig Robinson at The Iowa Republican declared that Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin were not running because of their decision not to speak at CPAC. He said:
Even though some social conservatives have criticized the event in recent years, it is my belief that the entire 2012 presidential field will be there to address the conference. That also means that the field of candidates doesn’t include Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin.
Now I appreciate the analysis he gives of the different candidates in the race, but basing who is not running because of their decision not to speak at CPAC is nonsensical. I would say the same if somebody said that a candidate is toast because they do participate. Frankly I think CPAC needs Huckabee and Palin more than they need CPAC, and I think the average voter in Iowa really doesn’t care one way or the other.
CPAC’s influence is waning as every event and organization has a shelf life. It’s not irrelevant, but as an event, it is in decline. Let’s not make it more important than what it really is.