The ongoing kerfluffle over the high profile participation of GOProud in CPAC raises an interesting question for any advocacy coalition or movement: just how large do you make your tent before your movement is diluted and distorted to the point of fatal weakness?
What started out as a merely edgy move by CPAC’s organizers, including a self-proclaimed gay conservative organization, quickly mushroomed out of control after a disastrous and intemperate interview given by GOProud Board Chairman Chris Barron and Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia to Washington’s gay and lesbian magazine Metro Weekly.
Not to put too fine a point on it but political organizations exist to accrete power to themselves.
They do this by sponsoring candidates, candidates who support their goals, and aiding those candidates in their elections. Rarely does a movement come along which captures the zeitgeist in such a way that it can win under its own power. More likely than not winning requires a broad coalition of groups who are able to produce 50% + 1 votes in most state and local elections and 270 votes in the Electoral College.
Herein lies the conundrum of coaltion poltics: how broadly do you cast your net and what price do you pay for what said net hauls in? Or to phrase the matter as an observation rather than a question: the larger the tent the more clowns you have.
Unlike a parliamentary system where the winning coalition is typically assembled from a bevy of minority parties, our two party system requires full disclosure of the coalition up front. So where a parliamentary majority may be assembled by bringing together Greens, Communists, and Socialists, the voters themselves don’t necessarily cast their vote knowing who they will be yoked with for the duration of that parliament. In the United States that coalition must be assembled before the election is in full swing and the components of that coalition can become issues for candidates in the primary and general election.
What we have seen play out this year at CPAC is that in exchange for the cachet of having a self-proclaimed gay conservative organization the organizers have been willing to have the conference boycotted not only by groups such as: American Values; American Vision; the Capital Research Center; the Center for Military Readiness; Concerned Women For America; the Family Research Council; Liberty Counsel; Liberty University, the National Organization for Marriage, and the American Family Association. It is also being boycotted by Heritage Foundation and Media Research Center.
So what, other than temporary notoriety, did CPAC gain by this? Probably nothing. But if your objective is to create buzz for your conference rather than acting as an incubator for conservatives to come together and build alliances then Mission Accomplished. If your mission, on the other hand, is to be a focal point for conservatives to meet and strategize then the absence of the boycotting groups, especially a group as prominent and respected as Heritage, marks the effort as a colossal FAIL regardless of attendance.
The good news is that the opportunity lost at CPAC probably has little to no impact downstream. It isn’t like FRC or Heritage members are going to vote for Obama because of this. Similarly, if GOProud is conservative or Republican then their members will vote accordingly regardless of the status of GOProud at CPAC. The bad news is that this is just another of the missed opportunities and foot-shots that the conservative movement is famous for. Another gratuitous error committed for no discernable reason or potential of gain.
The takeaway, in my view, is that broad coalitions only work when the areas of agreement are not offset by areas of opposition or by the odor some of the groups bring. For instance, many of us are in favor of border security and a rigorous enforcement of our immigration laws. That does not mean that we will associate ourselves with any of the “we-hate-brown-people” types which festoon the anti-immigration landscape. Similarly, it would be ludicrous for a conservative group focusing on urban blight to ally itself with Nation of Islam or the New Black Panter Party. In these cases the other things these various groups espouse offset any areas of possible cooperation.
CPAC, in my judgment, has grossly violated this principle. Inviting the John Birch Society is nothing more than a public relations own goal. That group is irrelevant to today and serves only to tar everyone else as extremist nutjobs. But it is minor. Inviting GOProud was a calculated slap in the face to social conservatives, or anyone upholding traditional values in Western Civilization, as a publicity stunt. Grover Norquist’s ongoing romance with muslim extremists on the grounds that they are culturally conservative in, one supposes, a hijab-wearing-honor-killing-FGM-getting kind of way, is more inexplicable than the inclusion of GOProud and unfortunately not the grounds for groups to boycott CPAC.
If this pattern continues one wonders how much longer CPAC will be a conference attended by anyone other than the absolute fringe of the conservative movement.