Denver—The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is the premier annual right-wing confab in Washington, DC. For the last two years, they’ve also taken the show on the road, with regional CPACs held in crucial swing states such as Florida and Colorado. On Thursday, high on their candidate’s aggressive but dishonest performance in the previous night’s presidential debate, several hundred conservative activists gathered in Denver for the second annual CPAC Colorado.
The right’s newfound ebullience about the presidential election was largely overshadowed by its insecurity. Several speeches and plenary panels were largely dedicated to discussing how conservatives can reverse their ominous demographic destiny. Female, young and minority speakers repeatedly reassured the overwhelmingly older white audience that conservatism is actually the best ideology for the disadvantaged. Conservatives seem not to have considered that women and minorities may find conservative policies unappealing.
“There are men and women of color—black, brown and yellow—who share our faith, share our values…. They need to know that when we say, ‘we,’ we mean them too,” said former Representative Artur Davis (D-AL). In what was a rare, albeit only implicit, admission—that the GOP’s royalist economic agenda and Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment—might alienate working class voters, Davis also said, “People who work with their hands need to know that their cause is our cause.”
Davis, being an African-American who recently switched parties, has skyrocketed to Republican stardom. He spoke during primetime to the Republican National Convention. He gladly plays the role of assuaging any conservative guilt about their hostility to civil rights. “Conservatism has nothing to apologize for or be defensive about,” Davis asserted. But the whole rest of his speech was a defense against the widely held perception that conservatives are hostile to anyone who is not a rich white person.
Davis even went so far as to assert that for the homeless black men he passed in a park the night before, “conservatism has a case to make in their lives.” He did not explain what that case would be. The crowd clapped as if what conservatism offers the homeless is self-evident. Can you imagine a Republican candidate actually going to a group of homeless men in a park and arguing that cutting the capital gains tax is what will most help them? They need housing vouchers, Medicaid and food stamps, for which congressional Republicans are cutting funding.
Over a dozen speakers and panelists argued that all conservatives need to do to convert minorities, young people and women is to reach out to them. That, and a little dose of tokenism, will bring a diverse generation of single women and young Latinos into the Republican Party, they asserted. Several speakers glowingly mentioned Mia Love, a congressional candidate in Utah. Strangely, I did not catch references to any other first time congressional candidates. Surely the fact that Love happens to be African-American must be pure coincidence. Or not. “A party that has Bobby Jindal, Mia Love and Marco Rubio doesn’t need to take lessons from the left on diversity,” said Davis.
Rubio was the day’s keynote speaker, as he is for virtually any conservative convention that can get him. Conservatives believe that because he is Cuban-American and charismatic that he can make them more appealing to Latinos. And, as later panels demonstrated, they are very anxious about the growing, Democratic-leaning Latino population.