In an e-mail to supporters titled "Sticking Up for the 'C' in CPAC
," Tony Perkins, president of the prominent Family Research Council, explained why his socially conservative group would not attend this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
"FRC has chosen not to partner with a 'conservative' event that places the protection of marriage on the same plane as redefining it," wrote Perkins, referencing the involvement of the gay conservative group GOProud
at the conference. "Would CPAC team up with the Brady Campaign which fights to restrict -- if not abolish -- the Second Amendment? Would it collaborate with groups who promote doubling capital gains taxes?"
is the largest gathering of conservatives in Washington, D.C., each year.
As Perkins explained, his reservations about the conference have been building for a while:
For the last few years, the conference -- which used to embody the core of the conservative movement -- has pulled up a chair at the family table for people working to advance the policy goals of the radical Left. Lobbyists for amnesty, the ACLU, legalized marijuana, same-sex "marriage," and Internet gambling have called CPAC home
for the last several years.
Perkins stressed that "this has nothing to do with whether individual homosexuals should be allowed to attend CPAC," but that "by allying itself with liberal social organizations, ACU [the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC] is abandoning at least a third of the conservative movement."
In referring to "a third," Perkins is obliquely referencing the so-called "three-legged stool
" of conservatism, which is generally thought to constitute social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and national security conservatives. The notion that that this coalition (which would include libertarians and traditional conservatives) is vital for conservative success was the brainchild of Frank Meyer
, who dubbed it "Fusionism
." Bill Buckley's "National Review" did much to advance the notion, as well.
Social conservatives were the last group to join the coalition (mostly in the 1970s), and it's worth noting that conservatives did not enjoy much electoral success until
they joined. As such, the possibility that a schism
could cause social conservatives to abandon the movement -- just as many are abandoning the movement's largest meeting -- should alarm Republicans.
For decades, the disparate elements of the conservative movement operated under a tacit agreement to look the other way on issues that might be perceived as being part of someone else's turf (or at least, not to publicly support an enemy of a family member) -- with leaders intervening when someone got out of line (or as Vito Corleone might have said: "Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again.").
With the Soviet Union to fight for much of the 20th century, the various wings of the movement were able to focus on that as a uniting issue. Christians hated the Godless Communists, fiscal conservatives and capitalists hated their inefficient economic system and central planning, and national security conservatives were alarmed by the Soviets for obvious reasons.
As Perkins' e-mail implies, though, the "Fusionist" coalition may be hanging on by a thread. Meanwhile, for now, at least, it appears that not only are social conservatives in danger of losing the gay debate outside
the conservative movement -- they are also
losing it within the movement.
To be sure, the gay issue, for social conservative groups, is clearly non-negotiable.
Perkins chose to end his missive by writing in his final paragraph: "Some of our friends have criticized FRC's decision by drawing the scriptural parallel of Jesus eating with sinners. But this isn't Jesus eating with sinners -- it's Jesus partnering with them to open a restaurant!"