The American Conservative Union’s (ACU) Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) kicked off Thursday morning in in National Harbor, Maryland–and according to CPAC chairman Al Cardenas, this year’s event is the youngest and most diverse ever.
“It’s the best. You can see the excitement. There are thousands of people under 25 here. It’s probably the best group of young speakers we’ve ever had,” Cardenas told Breitbart News, adding: “It’s the most diverse audience and the most diverse set of speakers–the youngest set of speakers, and it captures our theme. Our theme is: ‘new challenges and a new generation to meet those challenges.'”
As libertarian attendance grew at CPAC over the years, given the support former Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) had from youthful voters, the ACU found itself facing its own challenges from GOProud, a gay conservative-libertarian organization.
The group first attempted, and was not allowed, to become a co-sponsor of the annual conference four years ago. Co-sponsors of CPAC are afforded a number of privileges, including prime speaker panel slots and area on the exhibit floor.
Cardenas insists there is no infighting within the conservative movement and that CPAC welcomes everyone to the conference as an attendee or speaker, as long as discussions remain civil.
“The idea about GOProud was an issue of civility. One of our board members and sponsors at CPAC is having a session on tolerance and they’re going to participate in that as others will and we don’t censor that. We’re okay with people [having these panels],” Cardenas explained.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. and ACU board member, hosted a two-hour panel discussion early Thursday evening titled “A Rainbow on the Right Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet.” CEI President Fred Smith moderated and was joined by panelists Liz Mair, Jonah Goldberg, Margaret Hoover and Jimmy LaSalvia of GOProud.
“The first thing we did when we started GOProud,” LaSalvia told Breitbart News on Thursday, “the first major expenditure was to sign on as a co-sponsor of CPAC.”
LaSalvia added, “The minute the check hit the ACU office, there were forces on the ACU board that sought to keep us from being a sponsor of CPAC because we’re gay.”
Cardenas maintains the issue lies solely with having a civil public discourse and defends the ACU’s decision to avoid naming GOProud a co-sponsor of CPAC.
“All we ask at CPAC of our sponsors and our speakers is that they maintain a sense of civility that should be expected in public discourse whether it’s amongst fellow conservatives or with a loyal opposition,” said Cardenas. “And if people don’t live up to those expectations, then we don’t invite them for a while. Most of these decisions are centered on civility rather than values.”
However, La Salvia does not see it that way, saying, “[The ACU] can come up with excuses that have happened over the last four years, but the truth is there are forces on that board that don’t want us at CPAC because we’re gay.”
Both LaSalvia and Cardenas are looking forward to re-energize the conservative movement with new energy and ideas after the tough GOP loss last November. ACU board membership and GOProud do find common ground on such issues like the Second Amendment issues and free market health care solutions.
Cardenas highlighted the young rising conservative political leadership on Capitol Hill. Referring to the emergence of the likes of Senators Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), both of whom are speakers at CPAC, the ACU chairman said:
“The exciting part is folks that people have not heard of two or three years ago are now leaders in our country in the Senate and in the House. And we believe there are national leaders that are going to be the catalyst of the genesis of the resurgence of the conservative movement in America.”
As LaSalvia walked to his panel he said, “We’re going to have a discussion tonight about the future and the future is about a coalition that can win and in 2013 that must recognize the world we’re living in and the word we’re living in includes gay people. And so I’m focused on the future and how we build a new modern coalition cthat an win.”