The Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, has drawn some fire already this year, but on Tuesday it went up in flames. The inexplicable decision by the event's managers at the American Conservative Union to invite Donald Trump to speak sullies an event conservatives have long held in high esteem -- an event that The Washington Examiner sponsors through an earlier agreement.
ACU President Al Cardenas recently explained to the Washington Post the ACU board's decision not to invite New Jersey's Chris Christie to speak. "We felt that Gov. Christie, a crowd favorite at previous CPACs, was not particularly deserving this year," he said. "I have said that CPAC is like an All-Star Game for conservatives. Even players that have great careers in baseball don't make it to the All-Star Game every year. I hope he earns an invitation next year. But, everyone must keep in mind that we are not the Republican Party -- we are conservatives." A CPAC "insider" was similarly quoted in National Review saying that Christie has a "limited future" in the GOP.
It's one thing to argue that there is a strict philosophical litmus test for being invited to CPAC, even if that means excluding worthy individuals or taking unpopular positions. This explanation would at least be admirable for consistency and adherence to principle. But that is not the case here, as the Trump invitation demonstrates.
For the past several years, Trump has emerged as one of the most prominent conspiracy theorists questioning the legitimacy of President Obama's birth certificate. He has done so mostly to draw attention to himself. CPAC flouts conservatism's rich intellectual tradition by inviting such a transparent crackpot.
And if the invitation criteria are principles and litmus tests, it should be noted that Trump isn't exactly a conservative. He once described himself as "totally pro-choice" to Fox News. He told CNN that "I've been around for a long time. And it just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans." Trump wrote in his 2000 book "The America We Deserve" that "The Canadian [health care] plan also helps Canadians live longer and healthier than Americans. ... We need, as a nation, to reexamine the single-payer plan." In the same book, Trump proposed a wealth tax to boost the economy. And his position on free trade was to tell China: "Listen you m----rf----s, we're going to tax you 25 percent."
Cardenas announced the Trump invitation in a press release, noting, "Donald Trump is an American patriot and success story with a massive following among small government conservatives." What accounts for his conservative "all-star" status when Chris Christie doesn't make the cut? Is it his history of eminent domain abuse or his past support for a Canadian-style socialized health care system?
As The Examiner's Philip Klein noted last week, this year's CPAC does not even have a panel on the subject of health care reform. Yet it finds time for a celebrity huckster with no history as a conservative and no knowledge of conservatism, whose chief contribution to the public debate has been to pretend he's running for office in order to promote himself. For conservatives reeling from Obama's re-election and seeking a serious conversation about the future of the conservative movement, this year's CPAC may not be the place to find it.