The need for the conservative movement to adapt to the changing landscape in America may have been missed by the organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which will be held in Maryland this weekend and is expected to draw over 10,000 attendees. While some panels, such as “Expanding the Conservative Movement within the Hispanic Community” and “Reversing Obamacare and Reaching Minority Votes: The Language that Works,” reflect the desire to change, others—such as the event, “Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You’re Not One?”—highlight how out-of-touch conservatives really are.
Recent rhetoric from some conservative leaders signaled a realization that there is a large disconnect between them and much of the electorate in the United States. At first glance, this large conference's slated schedule suggests a change might be coming. Compared to the 2012 conference, there are about twice as many African-American and Hispanic speakers on this year’s schedule. In addition, the number of featured female speakers has increased by a third. The schedule also shows a commitment to utilizing social media and other technology tools of the 21st century, an arena in which the progressive movement has utilized very successfully.
In addition to technology forums and an increased number of minority speakers, CPAC is catering to the needs and issues of the younger generations in other ways, with a large number of young conservative leaders scheduled to speak this weekend. These events, led by and targeted at, young people, are especially important at this year’s conference as over 50 percent of the early registrants for the conference are under the age of 25.
While some events listed above show promise, other scheduled speakers and panelists at CPAC cast some doubt on the conservative movement’s commitment to progressive change. The conference schedule is currently set to allow Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), two younger faces of conservatism, only 11 minutes each to speak, compared to Sarah Palin’s allotted time of 16 minutes. Is Sarah Palin really the face of a new conservative movement? And panels such as and “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Plastic Water Bottles, Fracking, Genetically Modified Food, and Big Gulp Sodas,” seem to embrace ideas that clash with the stance the majority of young people have on important issues—especially as more young conservatives toss out the old-fashioned conservative views on a wide range of social issues.
It’s also crucial to glance at the list of people who were not invited. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who, in recent polling, performed the best against two other possible Republican candidates isn't attending. Also missing from the invitation list is GOProud, a conservative gay rights organizations, which has been uninvited for the second year in a row—though they will participate in an unofficial panel, “A Rainbow on the Right,” sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Who the American Conservative Union—which hosts the annual conference—interacts with outside of the conference also says much more about the commitment to change (or lack thereof) than who is on the attendees list. A columnist from Mother Jones makes a valid point that until conservatives stop aligning themselves with “white nationalists,” it won’t matter who they invite to speak at these conferences.
Perhaps, then, the CPAC’s best attempt to connect with young people is their self-proclaimed "youth event," a party entitled, “The Walking Dead: Obama Zombies on Parade.” Based on the TV show “The Walking Dead,” which averages 6.8 million viewers per episode between the ages of 18 to 49, the party will feature Hollywood make-up artists to transform party-goers into zombies—an admittedly great way to connect to pop culture and the Millennial generation.
Though, if you check out this parody video—the party-theme may be slightly outdated.
So a zombie-themed party may fall short of what is needed to connect with young people and other emerging demographics that have been routinely marginalized by some conservatives—at least on a broad scale. President Obama received 80 percent of the votes of Hispanic, black, and Asian American voters in the 2012 election, in addition to huge wins with the younger generations, highlighting the huge obstacle that conservative candidates face when seeking to reach out to these populations.
Yet, while young progressives might laugh at the melodramatic titles of some of the CPAC panels, it is important to be aware that the conservative movement’s resources greatly surpass those of the progressive movement—and they are devoting a lot of those resources to programs that target conservative youth. In 2010 alone, conservative youth organizations spent over $76.9 million, while comparable progressive organizations only spent about $28.7 million, representing a major challenge the progressive movement will face in the coming years.