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Jim Lee: Conservatives stuck spinning wheels

The little icon at the top of the website continued to spin in circles until, eventually, the inevitable error message appeared: Unable to connect.

How appropriate, I thought. It was the same message pundits have been repeating since the election.

I was looking for the agenda for the March 14-16 Conservative Political Action Conference. It's a big event, and you can learn a lot about where the conservative wing of the GOP is heading by looking at the list of people invited to speak, and those who were left off the list.

I got to the main website OK, but when I clicked on the submenu for the program, the little circle at the top spun endlessly around and the message at the bottom of the screen said "waiting for conservative.org."

Aren't we all, I thought.

Discouraged, I did some snooping around on websites for The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, the Washington Post and the Associated Press for any stories they might have done in advance of the big meeting. What I found was discouraging, to say the least.

Part of the lineup of speakers looked like a repeat of the GOP presidential primaries. Mitt Romney, Rep. Paul Ryan, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann were among those scheduled to address the group.

The Wall Street Journal noted that the event typically ends with a straw poll of the group's favorite potential presidential candidate. Since 2007, The Wall Street Journal noted, Romney won five times leading up to this year's event. Odd since it was the radical right wing that forced Romney, a strong presidential candidate, into extreme stands that ultimately cost him the election. Had I been in Romney's position I think I would have politely declined the invitation, especially since the guest list included Bachmann, Santorum, Sarah Palin and even Donald Trump, all of whom have brought their own special taint to the conservative movement - from revisionist history to conspiracy theories.

Rep. Paul Ryan was among the headliners currently in favor among this organization. He, along with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, were among the more respected conservative voices to take to the podium for the event.

But the organizers snubbed other strong conservatives, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Christie has done the unthinkable in conservative Republican circles by not only criticizing some of the extremes in his party, but also for praising President Barack Obama's handling of the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, which devastated parts of New Jersey. McDonnell has apparently earned shunning for raising taxes in Virginia to pay for infrastructure. The same people condemning McDonnell might want to check the history of another conservative beacon, Ronald Reagan. Reagan also understood that sometimes tax increases are necessary.

It is more than a little ironic that Reagan is widely credited with reviving the conservative movement, yet most of the things he did in office are things that the current crop of conservatives find appalling. He even worked with Democrats in 1982 to raise taxes as a way to cut the federal deficit. Chances are he wouldn't have been invited to this year's event.

On the positive side, the group did apparently learn a little from last year's event, and some who stood proud on the stage in 2012 weren't invited back.

Michael Keegan, in The Huffington Post, wrote, "Following last year's bad publicity, the white nationalists have been disinvited. And anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller has been denied a panel slot, which she claims is because CPAC's organizers are 'enforcing the Sharia.' You know things are getting bad when CPAC has fallen to Sharia."

The odd mixture of genuine, legitimate conservative voices and those on the fringe demonstrate the struggles that the conservative movement continues to go through. The sad truth, though, is that as long as the wackos and extremists have a place on the stage, most conservative Republicans are going to have reservations about the party and the direction it is moving in.

We need more Republicans who are willing to stand up against these extremists, reclaim the conservative movement and rebuild it to what it was in the Reagan years. Until they come, the conservative movement will be left like the CPAC website, spinning its wheels and unable to connect with large portions of our society.

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