Tea Party Convention? That’s old news. The conservative buzz this week is the annual kickoff of CPAC, the 37th annual Conservative Political Action Committee, which will last three days and feature various shrinking violets like keynote speaker Glenn Beck, Florida Senate hopeful Marco Rubio, Newt Gingrich, Rep. Michele Bachmann, tea-partiers and the gay GOProud group which is cosponsoring the event.
There have been raucous and memorable moments at past conferences, such as when presidential hopeful John McCain was booed in 2008 (I was there for that speech; McCain knew he was walking into a lion’s den and seemed thrilled when he could finally get off stage), which coincided with Mitt Romney’s 15 minutes of fame at the same conference announcing he was dropping out of the race. Other top moments for attendees have included sitting back and listening to Ann Coulter, or hanging out with Joe the Plumber and Republican rappers. One upcoming event this year certain to be entertaining will be “Reaganpalooza” which will involve young conservatives packing a Capitol Hill bar to honor the movement by “drinking one for the Gipper,” according to Politico.
But sometimes what is most interesting about CPAC, says Grover Norquist, antitax crusader and president of Americans for Tax Reform (who says he’s coming tomorrow “with bells on” and has been to every one since ’78) is who is not coming. Norquist is on the board of directors of the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC. He says the most glaring hole on the speaking roster belongs to Sarah Palin, who declined to speak at the event. “Palin was paid a lot to go to the other one” says Norquist, referring to the recent Tea Party Convention in Nashville. Her absence this week, he says, is a political sign.
“Is Palin running for president? The answer is no. She could have spoken to 10,000 people, but instead she chose to speak to 600 and get paid $100,000. That’s being a spokesperson and making a living, not running for president.”
Who are the people to watch this around? “Watch the reception for Rubio and Tim Pawlenty,” says Norquist. But also watch the energy of a newly excited conservative base. “CPAC gives you a gut check on how the movement is doing,” says Norquist. “Regardless of how elected officials are doing.”