The Conservative Political Action Conference can be pretty easy pickings for liberal-leaning writers, from checking out who’s on the gay hook-up app Grindr to hitting up the panel discussions that sound most likely to go off the rails to chronicling the latest in Sarah Palin’s world. But amid the carnival atmosphere and moments of outright wing-nuttery, there are plenty of moments of which liberals ought to take note rather than laugh off.
1. The insistence that Republicans be “pro-free market” and not “pro-business”
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin told the CPAC audience from the main stage “There’s a big difference between being pro-business and pro-free market” (though she was happy to use the phrase “pro-business” back in 2010 herself). Peter Schweitzer of the Government Accountability Institute (and former Palin adviser) called for it during his brief speech at the Breitbart News “Uninvited” panel. If elected officials didn’t learn in 2012 that being “pro-business” attracts donations but not always voters, a certain class of conservatives — undoubtedly influenced by the Charles Koch Institute and others who use the “free market” framing for business-friendly policies — certainly have. And if they’re successful at reframing the conversation outside of CPAC, liberals are going to have some catching up to do.
2. There is an increasing understanding that they’re losing on social issues and a push to let them go
Call it “Reagan’s three-legged stool” or the Big Tent theory, but the fiscal conservatives are increasingly ready to throw the social conservatives under the bus to get back into power. While there’s no movement to support marriage equality or abortion rights in the 2016 platform, there’s an increasing (if grudging) acceptance that they are among a passel of losing issues for the Republican Party and that demographics are not on their side. They saw what happened with Akin and Mourdock in 2012, and there are plenty of people who aren’t willing to sacrifice their economic ideals just to try to hold back the obvious tide on same sex marriage.
3. Derailing conversations about discrimination over being called “a bigot” by liberals is a new, strong tactic
While there is certainly a great deal of snickering to do when this particular attempt at derailment goes hilariously awry, and there are certainly active bigots who self-identify as conservatives, there is a lot of butthurt going around — and being encouraged — over and with people who believe themselves to “love the sinner but hate the sin” or to have no hate for groups of people unlike themselves. Calling someone a bigot (or a racist) might be satisfying, fun and even true, but in a policy debate it’s not relevant. What some conservatives are attempting to do is impose discriminatory policies or policies that have discriminatory effects, and when they can get into a debate with liberals about what really is or is not in their hearts, they don’t have to talk about those policies or those effects. Plus, it plays into the age-old stereotype of coastal elites who think that all other Americans are stupid hicks who live in flyover states — and that is a stereotype that is a loser for Democratic candidates.
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