There’s more to CPAC than just speeches by presidential aspirants and a straw poll, though those tend to make all of the headlines.
Organizations that advance the conservative agenda typically have programming within the confines of the conference, and in some instances when their agenda does not fit the American Conservative Union’s (particularly on the issue of immigration- more on this later), their events are held off-site.
Panel discussions, candidate meet and greets, campaign meetings (CPAC strictly prohibits campaign activity at their political conference- go figure) and movie screenings were some of the activities that were held “outside the hall.”
Honoring Breitbart and Interesting Timing – Perhaps the most noteworthy event to happen “off schedule” was the Citizens United tribute to Andrew Breitbart, the late journalist innovator, apostle of liberty and irritant to the media and political establishment. Breitbart was a fixture at CPAC until his passing in early 2012 and has indirectly mentored numerous young citizen journalists to do the work the established media refuses to do.
In addition to playing a video montage of Breitbart’s life, Citizens United announced that it had created the Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment Award and presented it to constitutional lawyer and conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin. The presentation took place in a crowded room near the CPAC main hall at the same time when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a favorite target for Levin’s ire, was addressing the conference. When the oddly coinciding competing events was mentioned to Levin, the radio host joked that he thought it was strange that the New Jersey governor would take the stage in the conference area while HE was speaking.
Slipping Past the No Campaign Rule – Before entering the main hall, CPAC staffers determined to enforce their prohibition against campaign activities made a point of checking attendees for campaign signs, confiscating a number of “Stand with Rand” posters. Yet one “candidate group” managed to outsmart the rules and the regulators. The grassroots network pushing for Dr. Ben Carson’s presidential candidacy produced small “Run Ben Ben” posters that could be concealed in coat pockets and stretched out horizontally. In retrospect it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a group pushing the cause of a neurosurgeon could not only anticipate the rules but devise a means of beating the system.
Movie Night – The pro-religious freedom film Persecuted had multiple screenings at CPAC. The movie about a popular television preacher’s fight against federal regulation of religion and the consequences he faces due to his opposition features former Tennessee US Senator and veteran actor Fred Thompson and Bruce Davison from X-Men. The film was well received and is expected to be released in theaters in early May.
Drawing a Line on Immigration – Held in a hotel across the street from CPAC, the Eagle Forum conducted a seminar for bloggers on how increased legal immigration has complicated matters for the Republican Party. Commentator Ann Coulter and longtime conservative political activist Phyllis Schlafly argued that the reason so many immigrants are hostile to the GOP has to do with the large role the government has in the societies they left and their expectation that the state should play a similar role in their new country. Schlafly and Coulter both pointed out how the established media, including Fox News, largely ignores how immigration drives down wages, increases the cost of health care and other social services and that the importance of immigration to the Latino community is largely exaggerated. Coulter also mentioned that she suspected the reason why she was not asked to speak at CPAC in 2014 (she participated in a debate against a liberal) had to do to her anti-amnesty position.
Say What? – Another interesting nugget in Coulter’s immigration talk was the implication that she was hoping Mitt Romney would make another try for the White House. While explaining that she backed Romney because of his position on immigration, Coulter mentioned that she hoped to support him again. The former Massachusetts governor, who did not appear at CPAC this year, has said he has no intention to seek the presidency in 2016..