Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union
Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, helped launch this year's CPAC -- the Conservative Political Action Conference -- and the headline on the Associated Press article about his message to Republicans struck an unexpected note: "Conservative leader says GOP must broaden appeal."
Cardenas is known for being ideologically rigid, to put it mildly, so the notion that he'd like to see Republicans "broaden" their appeal would be a rather dramatic shift in postures.
But as it turns out, the AP's headline didn't match the AP's article (thanks to my colleague Nazanin Rafsanjani for catching this).
"I'm a firm believer that if the Republican Party is going to have some success, it's going to do so by being a conservative party and not a home for everybody. That's how you grow," Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, told reporters Thursday morning as the conference began at Maryland's National Harbor, just south of Washington.
He continued: "You grow your tent by convincing others, persuading others that yours is the way. And you build your tent by reaching out to the new demographics of America, not with a watered down version of who we ought to be," he said.
Ah, I see. When a prominent conservative leader urged the GOP to broaden its appeal, he meant the GOP needs to keep pushing a right-wing message the American mainstream disagrees with, and wait for voters to discover the wisdom of the far-right agenda.
That said, Cardenas isn't entirely satisfied with the Republicans' status quo, at least when he takes a look at those already in his small tent. The American Conservative Union chairman also told reporters Republicans have become "too white, too old, and too male to win to win a national election, given the demographic realities of today."
There's ample data to bolster the argument, but as yesterday's CPAC helped demonstrate, the Republican efforts to improve their demographic challenges are already struggling.
Benjy Sarlin noted that GOP appeals to Latino voters "was the issue" on the first day of the conference, but the right remains slow to budge.
Organizers may have purged center-right speakers like Chris Christie from this year's event, but when it came to immigration it was a whole other world. Panels, speeches, and breakout sessions galore featured Latino or pro-immigration Republicans who warned of impending doom if the party didn't abandon its usual hardline ways.
It didn't always go over well. The mere mention, by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, of calls to shift the party's appeal to the growing Latino demographic drew boos from the crowd.... Perhaps not surprisingly, the most forceful speech on the topic came from a pollster, Whit Ayres, who all but fell to his knees and begged Republicans to pass comprehensive reform.
The dynamic that unfolded at CPAC reinforced the party's problem. On the one hand, attendees saw speaker after speaker, each of whom knows the party's anti-immigrant status quo is untenable, support reform. On the other, attendees themselves were unmoved. Republicans on one side of the podium saw the need for reform; Republicans on the other side of the podium didn't care to put such considerations over their deeply-held beliefs.
At a Thursday morning panel on immigration, conservatives said House Republicans will probably have no choice but to kill comprehensive reform and House Republicans will be making a strategic mistake with lasting electoral consequences.
"People can wring their hands about it, they can complain about it, they can have angst about it, but the one thing they can't do is change it," Ayres said, after facing heckling from the far-right crowd. "That is the America that is coming."
But for the rank-and-file, denial is easier than change. They don't care for "the America that is coming," so they'll try to stand athwart history, shouting, "Stop."
We'll see how that works out for them.