Say What You Will, Rick Santorum May Be the Hippest Conservative Out There
At the very least, many of the other panelists and speakers recognized that the problem existed. In a rousing and well-received speech, Louisiana Sen. Elbert Guillory acknowledged, "The average young person in the street associates Republicans with negative connotations of race. But we have a glorious history as leaders of civil rights as Republicans. We have a fantastic story to tell; what we don't have is a sense of urgency." Later, at a panel discussion about immigration, Miami journalist Helena Guirre Ferré discussed her frustrations during the 2012 Presidential campaign. Specifically, she recalled trying to secure a Romney interview for her Spanish-language news radio station. The Romney campaign demanded a "friendly" interview, to which Ferré responded: "Since when are journalists supposed to give friendly interviews, anyway?" Later, she tried to pin down Paul Ryan for a separate interview. "To my shock," she said, "they told me that they don't do 'specialty media.' How can the GOP reach out to 50 million viewers that way? We have to get out of specialty mode."
Panelist Eric Schmitt concurred: "Tone matters. If you think one of the parties hates you, you won't vote for it."
Speakers like Guillory, Colorado state representative Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff and Brenda Talent from the Show-Me Institute came across as fresh, enthusiastic and motivated. Utah senator Mike Lee and Texas governor Rick Perry both spoke well, as did Townhall.com columnist Guy Benson. In fact, if there is indeed a "next generation" of conservatives coming up, it appears to be happening on a state level. Speaker after speaker lauded such Republican governors as Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, South Carolina's Nikki Haley, and New Mexico's Susana Martinez. However, they were outnumbered by gray-haired white dudes in suits, and some of the panel discussions ended up drowning in minutiae. A discussion about libertarianism vs. social conservatism, for instance, was simply interminable.
This isn't entirely CPAC's fault, Many of its marquee speakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz, were unavailable due to the battle over the Affordable Care Act. At times, though, Guillory's warning about a lack of urgency seemed all too accurate. The past five years have seen issue after issue -- Benghazi, Fast and Furious, IRS abuse, NSA spying, a feckless foreign policy, and an Affordable Care Act which has become mired in delays and waivers before it's even been implemented -- that would have long since sunk a Republican president. Yet there's no sign that any of it has affected the president's personal popularity. Today's conservatives and Republicans can't just assume that they'll win based on the other side's perceived incompetence. Should they wish to not only compete on their own terms but enrich the culture at large, they'd be wise to follow Santorum's advice as the 2014 and 2016 elections loom.
Mike Appelstein can most often be found in the music section of the Riverfront Times. But the freelance contributor (and full-time attorney) also appreciates covering the occasional political rally, like the time Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck came to St. Louis while Defending the Republic.