WaPo Front-Page Slam: CPAC 'Once a Venue for the Right Fringe'

CPAC made the front page of Friday’s Washington Post, but reporter Philip Rucker wrongly insisted the convention was "once a venue for the right fringe" of the GOP, but now it hosts presidential aspirants. Below that, there was a promotional blurb in bold type for Dana Milbank’s column inside: "Rubio is the far right’s anti-Crist." Here’s Rucker’s sneering introduction:

Emboldened by a belief that their political fortunes are on the rise, conservative activists descended Thursday on the capital city they love to hate, seeking to stoke what they consider a grass-roots uprising against President Obama and Democrats in Congress.

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference was once a venue for the right fringe of the Republican Party, but in recent years it has drawn more mainstream party figures and now provides a stage for presidential aspirants to prove their conservative credentials.

When were the days of "right fringe"? Rucker later suggests it’s been fringy since Nixon, up until very recently.

Since the days of President Richard M. Nixon, CPAC has served as an annual gathering of conservative thinkers. But now it is an important venue for any ambitious Republican, and this year's agenda features potential presidential hopefuls.

Did Rucker do his research and find Ronald Reagan didn’t come and speak in 1976 or 1978 or 1980? Did George H.W. Bush not come to CPAC in 1987 or 1988?

The Post website headline was "Conservatives descend on DC." Perhaps liberals have been described this way, but it sounds to sensitive ears that conservatives are "descending" like a flock of vampire bats or the flying monkeys of the Wicked Witch of the West. It doesn’t help that in paragraph three, conservatives are also in a "hive":

This year's CPAC, which began Thursday and will run through Saturday, had a festival atmosphere, as thousands of jubilant activists turned the Marriott Wardman Park ballroom into a hive of old-guard conservatives and Don't Tread on Me "tea partiers" hungry for new leaders and messages that can carry the GOP out of the political wilderness.

It was, in the words of one speaker, "our Woodstock."

I don’t recall CPAC ever being a premiere concert venue (or scene for public nudity), but it might fit in terms of feelings of unity and warmth.

Rucker then turned to how Mitt Romney was "casting himself as a populist" (that would be a stretch, like a multimillionare author of two self-absorbed memoirs of audaciously and hopefully growing up biracial).

Rucker also signaled his distaste by adding color to his Cheney sentence: he emerged at CPAC from behind a "dark curtain" (Darth Vader music, please). Rucker suggested the fringe (ahem, the "share of firebrands") are still present:

The gathering continues to draw its share of firebrands. Dana Loesch, a St. Louis radio host and a tea party leader there, challenged conservatives to organize in unexpected ways -- over burgers and brews at bars where liberals congregate or by starting "flash mobs." Longtime National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre gave an impassioned tribute to Charlton Heston, the late actor and NRA president.

And at a time of strife within the Republican Party, which lacks a clear national leader and is struggling to unite behind a common agenda as the November midterm elections approach, one theme emerged in each speech Thursday: Attack Obama.

"Share of firebrands" is an odd euphemism, since most of the crowd at CPAC would proudly accept that title of passionate commitment. It’s also odd to insist it’s a "time of strife" for a "struggling" party, as if conservative activism is crippling the GOP. Do Democrats avoid contentious primaries where liberals insist on nominating "firebrands"? Why do Post reporters fail so often to find anything "fringy" among liberals?

Finally, it’s funny that after Rucker began his CPAC story by suggesting conservatives were gathering "what they considered the grass roots," he acknowledged actual grass roots in Florida:

[Mario] Rubio is running in a hotly contested GOP primary campaign against Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a race that has pitted the conservative grass roots, which have embraced Rubio, against the more moderate party establishment.

Dana Milbank's page-two column on Rubio took issue with Rucker, in that Milbank insisted conservatives were the Republican party establishment. But he stuck with the far-right gibes from the front page blurb:

The anti-Crist came to Washington on Thursday. In the ballroom of the Marriott Wardman Park, they acted as if he were the Messiah.

His name: Marco Rubio, the far-right challenger to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in that state's Republican Senate primary. He was the kickoff speaker at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, and he delivered just the message they wanted to hear: anti-taxes, pro Gitmo, anti-Obama, pro-waterboarding.

Milbank thought it was just sick that conservatives would champion Guantanamo:

Celebrating the infamous military prison once would have been extraordinary -- even President George W. Bush said he wanted to close it -- but the delight about waterboarding and Gitmo served as a reminder of where the conservative movement has gone.

Philip Rucker
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