Is CPAC the New Republican Party?

Editor’s Note: We asked Adele Stan, who blogs for Political Animal from time to time on the weekends, to give us a dispatch from the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md., this week, which she covered for AlterNet.

Among political reporters, the Conservative Political Action Conference is something of a venture into an alternate universe — one viewed as the home of right-hanging fringe of the Republican Party.

At CPAC, there’s always plenty of raucous wackiness, and this year was no exception, despite the loss of Andrew Breitbart, who could always be counted on to create a scene.

Nonetheless, there were people made up to look like zombies (for an Obama-zombie-themed party), a guy with a rainbow-colored mohawk whose self-appointed job seemed to be to be the CPAC guy with the weird hair, and the neo-fascist Catholic followers of Tradition, Family & Property, who adorned their business suits with large, red, polyester sashes.

What sets CPAC apart from other right-wing gatherings is that it encompasses all of the right: the religious right, the neo-libertarians (who prefer to call themselves simply libertarians), the Islamophobes, the isolationists, the gun nuts and survivalists. And I know I’m leaving a lot of people out.

As Judicial Watch’s Lisette Garcia put it at a question-and-answer session during a panel discussion: “I love CPAC! I’ve never seen so many yarmulkes and mini-skirts in the same place at the same time.” (That would represent a mingling of the Netanyahu wing with the Rand Paul wing.)

But however odd CPAC appears to liberal eyes, it is no odder than the Republican Party. In fact, 2013 may be remembered as the year that CPAC and the GOP came together as one.

Indeed, nearly every politician who graced the podium on the CPAC main stage was on the roster at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last August.

Look — Newt Gingrich! There’s Rick Santorum! Did you catch Rick Perry? How about that Marco Rubio? Rand Paul knocked me out! Did you get tickets for the Jeb Bush dinner? Paul Ryan knows how to stomp on those numbers! Wow, that Ted Cruz is awesome!

In fact, just about the only notable GOP figures left out of this year’s right-wing confab were Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (who made the error of supporting a transportation tax), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (who, as Brother Kilgore notes, dared to say nice things about the president), and former presidential contender John McCain (who gets no props for having chosen CPAC’s beloved Sarah Palin as his running mate). House Speaker John Boehner received an invitation, but begged off, telling organizers he had commitments to keep in his district.

Even Mitt Romney garnered an invitation, imploring the crowd to “learn from my mistakes,” which he left unspecified.

Not Your Father’s GOP

Today the papers and blogs are full accounts of fissures within the party and within the right, notably between the so-called libertarians of the Rand Paul faction, and everybody else (the neo-cons, the con-cons, the anti-gay social conservatives, the anti-drug social conservatives, et al). My blogging buddy, Kathleen Geier, has an interesting take on the anti-prison conservatives v. the lock-em-up conservatives, here.

While today’s commentators express their doubts that the party will ever go Paul’s way, Paul isn’t reading his tea leaves from their cups. He’s reading the actuarial tables.

Young conservatives, it turns out, have somewhat different views from their elders. They don’t find value in the so-called War on Drugs, or in war of most kinds. Most have no issue with marriage equality for LGBT people, and although Paul does, he proposes dispensing with the issue by changing the tax code so that married people are taxed the same as those who are not, and allowing states to create civil contracts between same-sex couples. (That still leaves out the sticky question of federal spousal benefits, but since Paul is not a fan of federal benefits of any type, perhaps he plans to dispense with them, as well.)

And 50 percent of respondents to the CPAC straw poll agreed with this statement:

Nearly 70 years after the end of World War II, it’s time for our European, Asian and other allies to provide for their own defense.

Where young conservatives agree with their elders is on the matter of abortion; like Rand Paul, they believe it should be illegal, which could reflect a gender gap in their cohort. Among those voting in the CPAC presidential straw poll, only 34 percent were women. But more than half of those voting were between the ages of 18 and 24, and Rand Paul won the contest with 25 percent of the vote. (The youthful Marco Rubio nipped at his heels, winning 23 percent.)

Gender and Generations

When you cover a three-day, right-wing conference, there comes that moment on the third day, when having been deprived of natural light and fresh vegetables and non-corrosive thoughts for 72 hours, you just have to get the hell out of the joint for a few hours, so, on the recommendation of a colleague, I ambled over to an Irish pub for lunch, only to be seated near a large party of very young CPACers — high-schoolers, perhaps.

An older man, who appeared to be a chaperone, asked three boys who sat together: “What’s the future of the Republican Party?”

“Acqua Buddha,” replied a blond boy dressed in a blazer a bit too big for him.

The elder obviously befuddled, the boy went on to explain that it came from a prank that Rand Paul played in college. I couldn’t hear everything that was said, but I don’t think he mentioned that the prank involved a woman who said she was essentially kidnapped by Paul, tied up, and made to worship a false idol that Paul called “Acqua Buddha.”

On his way out of the restaurant, the man noticed me scribbling on my reporter’s pad, the 4″ x 8″ spiral-topped pads you see all the journos carry.

“Are you a newspaper reporter?” he asked.

“No,” I said, returning to my writing.

“I use those kinds of pads, too,” he said, showing me his. “I’m not a reporter,” he continued, “but I like them because they fit in my pocket.”

“Yes, they’re designed to fit in a man’s inside jacket pocket,” I said.

“So, you want to be a man?” he asked.

Rand Paul may change the agenda of the GOP, but I suspect that gender gap is here to stay for a while.