CPAC Diary: Showdown on Gay Street

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 14 2013 7:08 PM

CPAC Diary: Showdown on Gay Street

The drawn-out drama of CPAC and GOProud has been told too many times to be worth retelling here. It came to a head, finally -- peacefully! -- in a pair of end-of-day panels, held on separate floors. At 5, a smallish group of clued-in people found a panel titled "Stop THIS: Threats, Harassment, Intimidation, Slander, and Bullying from the Obama Administration." The title fit in with the theme of a new book by panelist Ben Shapiro (Breitbart.com's editor). But the marquee guests were ACU board member Cleta Mitchell, who's credited with barring GOProud, and Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage.

"The time when you can stay at home and not have conflict is gone," said Brown. Conservatives were losing a battle of messaging to the left, because conservatives were concerned with "truth," and wouldn't slander their enemies. Mitchell radiated contempt, condemning the left for exposing tax information (and thus donor lists) for conservative groups like NOM. A college student rose to report that his school had kicked out Chick-fil-A -- there was a synchronized glumness from the expert panel.

I left the panel to pick up gear and rendezvous with the subject I was covering today. That took me past a winding line of hundreds, queued to see Paul Ryan, and delayed me with a couple of hallway conversations. I was delayed for the start of "A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet." It looked like this:

photo (1)

There was an unexpected symmetry of themes. The NOM et al panel had described a world in which intolerant liberals were forcing conservatives to defy their faiths. This panel, put on by the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, condemned intolerance from CPAC organizers, who were giving voters away by dismissing gay voters. They were, according to GOP strategist Liz Mair (wearing a Freedom to Marry shirt), the one group that shifted a little from Bush 2004 to McCain 2008, then had been won back by Barack Obama.

"The conservative moment is going through one of those purity panics right now," said National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg. He'd been called a squish -- "the author of Liberal Fascism, 10 years at National Review, and I'm a squish."

The room filled further, with most attendees too capitivated (or stuck) to patronize an open bar. This was their one bite at the apple, the one real discussion of marriage rights. "How do we let prisoners in jail get married," said conservative activist Margaret Hoover, "because they have a fundamental right, but law-abiding gay Americans who want to commit their lives to each other not get married?"

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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