The annual Conservative Political Action Conference has long courted controversy over what its attendees and speakers say. For the past few years, they've almost earned more coverage for who they don't invite to speak or attend -- and what that says about the future of the furthest right fringe of the Republican Party.
Yesterday, CPAC organizers announced that they had changed their mind about inviting American Atheists to set up a booth at this year's conference, which will be held March 6-8 at National Harbor. The group's president said he was "really disappointed, but ... not at all surprised" by the reverse of their fortunes. "We were going to CPAC specifically to combat the notion that one must be Christian in order to be conservative. We wanted to bring that to the forefront."
CPAC has also angered GOProud, a organization for gay Republicans, by not letting them play a role in the weekend's events ... for the third or fourth time. They aren't alone. Here's a list of other people and groups who haven't gotten much love from the American Conservative Union -- the organization that sponsors the event.
1. Chris Christie
Chris Christie is perhaps the most famous symbolic snub from the powers that be at CPAC. After his well-publicized "bromance" with Obama in 2012, among other policy choices, he didn't past the conservative smell test. "Governor Christie was invited to CPAC last year  because he did a great job in N.J. facing up to the teachers unions, balancing the budget and cutting debt," Al Cardenas, chairman of the ACU, told Politico. "This past year he strongly advocated for the passage of a $60+ billion pork barrel bill, containing only $9 billion in disaster assistance and he signed up with the federal government to expand Medicaid at a time when his state can ill afford it, so he was not invited to speak." Another source told National Review that Christie wasn't invited because of his stance on gun control, as well as his “limited future."
Cardenas also said at the time: "Hopefully he will be back in top form next year. We would be delighted to invite him again in that case."
He did get invited this year, after a resounding reelection and a new year so far dominated by investigation after investigation into his office -- and a few months of debate over whether the man heralded as a very possible 2016 presidential candidate has seen the limits of his future.
CPAC has had a long standoff with GOProud. In 2011, the gay conservative organization helped sponsor the annual CPAC conference. In response, more than 20 powerful conservatives and conservative groups -- including the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council -- sent the ACU a letter protesting GOProud's inclusion: "It is necessary for each group within any coherent movement not to stand in diametrical opposition to one or more of its core principles. It is our conviction that the institution of marriage and the family qualify as such principles."
ACU chairman David Keene responded: "It's no secret that some social conservatives are very upset at the idea that there would be any participation by any organization that's gay, but over the course of the 37 or 38 years that CPAC's been in existence we've had all kinds of people suggest that other people ought to be tossed out. Our mission is once a year to allow social, economic, and national security conservatives to come together." An editor at Human Events, a conservative online publication, said the controversy was "'much ado about nothing,' since GOProud consists of 'two gay dudes at a booth,'" according to the Atlantic.
GOProud was not invited back in 2012 or 2013.
A few days ago, National Journal wrote of this year's conference, "Meet the kinder, gentler Conservative Political Action Conference." GOProud was apparently invited back to the weekend's festivities, and Ross Hemminger, one of the organization's heads, said "People are beginning to ask me why I'm a gay Republican less and less, which means we're successful. Things really are changing."
However, GOProud was not invited to sponsor the event this year, and will not have a booth -- although it didn't ask for these things either. A few days later, one of the founders of GOProud -- Chris Barron -- resigned from the organization's board, telling the LA Times, “It’s completely and totally disingenuous to pawn off an unconditional surrender as a ‘compromise.’ ” Barron went on: “The rest of the country has moved so far beyond this. In a way, it’s even insulting that we’re having a discussion about if a gay group can be a sponsor of an event. It’s why I’m so disappointed to see the current leadership at GOProud willing to essentially be the stooges of the anti-gay folks who are running the ACU board.”
3. The John Birch Society
The John Birch Society represents the outer edge of the conservative outer edge of the Republican Party. Its libertarian philosophy is summed up in its motto as "Less government, more responsibility, and -- with God's help -- a better world." Over the years the group has been associated with a strong anti-communism message, a steadfast belief in a constitutional republic and a general distrust of the United Nations.
The John Birch Society has sponsored several CPACs -- and had booths set up at the event as recently as 2011. National Review wrote at the time, "We have no idea what the ACU is thinking but assume that the Birchers are eager to ferret out any Communists in its ranks." The Birchers were supposed to sponsor CPAC in 2012. CPAC decided, after a bit of backlash, that it would rather not be affiliated with the group anymore.
4. John McCain
In 2001, when the Arizona senator was pushing campaign finance reform with Russ Feingold, he was not invited to CPAC, which "regarded him as the most dangerous Republican apostate in the Senate," according to the Washington Times. According to a survey conducted at the event, 53 percent of attendees disapproved of McCain. "When you compare these numbers with the image conservatives had of John McCain three, four and five years ago, one has to say he is a man who worked hard to get to where he is today," said David Keene, ACU chairman at the time.
Three, four and five years later, conservatives hadn't changed their minds. During his speech at CPAC in 2008, months before he lost his final presidential campaign, he was booed.
5. Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell
In 2013, Bob McDonnell was not invited to speak at CPAC, apparently because he supported a $3.5 billion budget for infrastructure spending in the state, which resulted in tax increases and fees. He was, however, still the keynote speaker at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Prayer Breakfast that year. His attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, who lost a bid to replace McDonnell last year, gave the opening speech at CPAC in 2013. McDonnell, who has been indicted on corruption charges in Virginia, has not been invited to speak this year, either.
6. Pamela Geller
In 2013, Pamela Geller, a conservative activist perhaps most famous for her opposition to the "Ground Zero Mosque," was not invited to speak at CPAC, where she had often served on a panel. Her response?
"As you know I’ve always held events there even though I wasn’t warmly welcomed because of the influence of what can only be described as Muslim Brotherhood facilitators or operatives like Suhail Khan and Grover Norquist. ... That is effectively what they’re doing, they are enforcing the Sharia."
It wasn't the first time she had spoken unkindly about CPAC. At a D.C. screening of "The Ground Zero Mosque: The Second Wave of The 9/11 Attacks" during CPAC weekend in 2011, she said the event had been "compromised by Muslim Brotherhood activists."
7. Sen. Mel Martinez
The year 2007 was the first year CPAC didn't invite the current chairman of the Republican Party -- Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida -- to speak, a fact that got cheers at that year's conference.
8. Pat Buchanan
According to the Washington Post's coverage of CPAC in 1985, Pat Buchanan, Ronald Reagan's director of communications, was the rock star of the weekend:
The new White House director of communications was Mr. Popular at last night's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) dinner. Of course, mention of Goldwater's name was a sure applause getter, and at Reagan's arrival the 1,700 conservatives in the Sheraton Washington Ballroom just about went crazy.
But a smirking Buchanan, his black hair as shiny as ever, got the kind of shrieks and applause that suggested he had surpassed the rank of hero and had achieved the cherished station of Conservative Symbol.
9. Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich, who had just finished up his tenure as speaker of the House, was not invited to speak at CPAC in 1999. Then-ACU chair David Keene said, "Gingrich was a peculiar figure. You could never tell when he'd drift off into the Twilight Zone." People who did attend, according to The Washington Post: "presidential hopefuls Dan Quayle, Steve Forbes and Lamar Alexander; morality czar Bill Bennett; and crowd favorites Jeane Kirkpatrick, Oliver North and Charlton Heston. The Hill was represented by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Sens. Jesse Helms and John Ashcroft, and Reps. Bob Barr, Helen Chenoweth and Tom "the Hammer" DeLay, last night's keynote speaker."
In 2006, conservatives resumed eating up Gingrich's speeches.
"Tim Scott: Hardest part of being black in GOP? Always being asked, ‘what’s wrong with you?’" -- Wesley Lowrey, The Washington Post
"Bill Clinton begins campaign for Democrats in 2014 midterms" -- Philip Rucker, The Washington Post
"White House Weighs Four Options for Revamping NSA Phone Surveillance" Siobhan Gorman and Devlin Barrett, The Wall Street Journal
"Ariz. bill on refusing service: Furor, urgent appeals to Gov. Brewer" -- Cindy Carcamo, The Los Angeles Times