CPAC may have to go without Rubio this year, but will it matter?

CPAC may have to go without Rubio this year, but will it matter?
And then there were three. (Image: FBN video via The Resurgent)

Breitbart reported earlier today – “exclusively” – that Sen. Marco Rubio is skipping CPAC next week.

Allahpundit at Hot Air isn’t so sure.  He quotes the Rubio campaign as saying it’s still working out the senator’s March schedule, given all the primaries and the requisite campaigning that goes with them.  AP can’t really imagine Rubio skipping the premier annual confab of conservative Republicans, especially in an election year.

But he also throws out some red meat on the question of what, and how much, any of it means, given the strange time in which we find ourselves:

CPAC starts on Wednesday, March 2nd, the day after Trump’s presumptive romp through the SEC primary, which will all but cinch the nomination for him. The modern conservative movement will be a smoking crater that day yet somehow we’re supposed to care who does and doesn’t show up at the annual pageant it holds to pretend like it still has some determining influence over the direction of the GOP.

On this, I myself am not so sure.  I expect Trump to be strong in the South on Super Tuesday, but I’m not convinced he’s going to walk away with all the toys just yet.  That said, I tend to agree with what AP goes on to say:

The real fun at CPAC will come next year when Trumpism is either the party’s new governing “ideology” or merely a major constituency that needs to be pandered to.

I’m not sure I’d call the throes CPAC will be in by next year “fun,” exactly.  But some coalition of constitutional conservatives, social conservatives, and libertarians is going to be battling to define “conservatism” away from “Trumpism,” regardless of who wins in November (or indeed who gets the GOP nomination).  The break with old-consensus conservatism is happening as we speak, and Next Conservatism has to decide what it is going to be, and not just what it isn’t.

It may not be “conservatism” at all.  Is it actually conservative today, to push for government that is limited, constitutional, and federal?  Or is that more, well, reformist?

An awful lot has changed since 1980 – and more since 1912.  When you think about it seriously, there’s very little about what government became in the “progressive” 20th century that should be conserved.

That’s a big reason why it won’t matter much whether Rubio shows up at CPAC, since he’s an old-consensus, progressive-century-government kind of guy.

Breitbart’s implied meta-narrative with the report on Rubio skipping CPAC is that Rubio has become the default standard-bearer of the Republican “establishment” – the old-consensus pols and donors who poured over $100 million into Jeb Bush’s fruitless campaign.  And I think we all knew that anyway.  But I also think the real “tells” will be Rubio’s performance answering questions and outlining positions in the next few weeks, rather than any decisions about which venues to show up in.  He may well go to CPAC.  You campaign where the people are; it’s what you say that matters.

He started out with a noticeable rhetorical stutter on O’Reilly on Monday.  Queried about his views on immigration policy and amnesty, Rubio went into robo-repetition mode again, saying over and over:

It depends on what the American people are willing to support.

For someone who in the past has come across alternately as glib, wonkish, and passionate on this issue, Rubio sounds oddly coached and constrained here – and newly so.  Suddenly he has no bedrock ideas of his own; he’s just waiting to see what the American people will support.

Will he go silent on his pro-life stance, laid out so eloquently in a previous debate?  Will he lose the “Obama knew what he was doing” theme for which he became so notorious a couple of weeks ago?

The backing of the “establishment” donors comes with strings.  But all they have is money.  And in 2016, that’s not enough to enforce the old-consensus order they are so determined not to lose.  It’s lost already.

To suggest that “CPAC” and the expectations about it are outdated, as Allahpundit does, is only to acknowledge reality.  The GOP establishment is outdated too.  So are the Clinton Democrats and the socialists of the “1968” era and its Frankfurt School patriline.  They’re headed for the ash-heap of history.

Even the Reagan Revolution conservatives are outdated, because they represent a modus operandi of coexistence with big government.  Reagan himself could always see that government needed to be smaller and more limited, but it was already such a leviathan before he took office that it would have required more radical surgery than the people were ready for, to restore true limits and remove latent threats to liberty.  For the most part, he couldn’t get that done.

The old-consensus coexistence principle is what is falling apart today, of its own unsustainability.  The point of crisis has been reached: liberty and progressive government cannot coexist any longer.

Donald Trump is incapable of leading the people out of this quandary.  But although I can’t vote for him, he doesn’t scare me either.  Nor does Hillary (although she, unlike Trump, lacks compunction).  No one who gets elected with an itchy, issue-oriented authoritarian finger is going to decide the real course of our future.  Instead, he or she will be broken in a few years, and washed out with the tide.

The project for America is actually what that “CPAC 2017” may look like, in whatever form it happens.  America isn’t unifiable now in a political sense: the compromises of the old consensus were deals with the devil, and they point only to the historical path of destruction.  We either go “full-bore liberty” – limited, constitutional, federal, Founders-style – or it ceases to matter what we are, and “centrists” will be left with nothing anyway.

The further the primary voters get from Ted Cruz – or, in their way, Carson or (formerly) Fiorina – the less it matters whom we elect in November.  The urgent supporters of everyone else are simply deluded about what their choice will buy them.

Supporters of the “establishment centrists” (Rubio, Kasich; for some Democrats, Clinton) aren’t least among those deluded voters.  They want to hang onto something that’s already gone.  Unlike the Bernie Sanders contingent, they don’t hate America on principle.  But they don’t get that America has to be the things they are embarrassed about, or regard as dispensable, if she is to provide the benefits they want to preserve.

What we face now is so much bigger than whether Rubio goes to CPAC next week, it’s hard to get very worked up about each day’s new development.  It’s no accident that the conventional wisdom is coming undone at an accelerating pace.

I say these things not to discourage people, but because we need to fortify our minds for the crisis ahead.  Don’t be deceived by interim failures where you were hoping for successes.  They aren’t the end of the road.  If the road ends, it will end in our faint hearts, and not anywhere else.  A broken consensus is what we need to revive liberty and limited, constitutional government.  Here it comes.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


Commenting Policy

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, vulgarity, profanity, all caps, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain a courteous and useful public environment where we can engage in reasonable discourse.

You may use HTML in your comments. Feel free to review the full list of allowed HTML here.