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The Conservatives' 'Cleansing' Moment

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got a standing ovation when he criticized President Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got a standing ovation when he criticized President Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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He noted that CPAC attendance is up from last year. Conservatives and Republicans aren't synonymous, he said. Conservatism didn't lose the election; Republicans lost it, he said: "If this were a gathering of Republicans, they would be down and have every right to be down. They were repudiated."

Including at this conference. Shock pundit Ann Coulter yesterday aimed almost as many verbal darts at McCain as she did at President Obama. Obama beating McCain, she said, was like George Foreman in his prime beating White House correspondent Helen Thomas in the 12th round on a technical knockout.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a possible future presidential candidate, worked the talk-radio booths in the exhibit hall, saying that Obama and his policies have set up precisely the right national debate as the country heads toward the 2010 midterm elections. "No American I know of honestly believes the Treasury and the bureaucracy can actually run this economy," Gingrich said.

Not many people had anything kind to say about the recently retired President George W. Bush, who is sometimes called a liberal masquerading as a conservative.

" 'Compassionate conservative,' I have no idea what that means," said James Campbell, 24, of Arlington.

The grim election results have exposed the fractures in the movement, threatening to shred the coalition of social conservatives, fiscal conservatives and national security conservatives. More broadly, the Republican Party faces a quandary on whether to retrench to core conservative values or try to reach out to a broader constituency.

There are some basic questions to be answered, such as: Has the right become too conservative or not conservative enough? Is it enough to be a party of "no," or do Republicans need to reinvent themselves and provide new ideas of their own?

Conservative pundit Tucker Carlson endorsed the cleansing effects of catastrophic failure: "It's the end of the road for self-denial," he said.

Carlson got in a bit of a dust-up with the audience when he spoke Thursday. Arguing that conservatives need to put more effort into digging up facts and rely less on opinion and punditry, he noted that the New York Times, a favorite target of conservative wrath, at least cares about spelling people's names right.

"NOOOOOOO," arose a moan from some in the crowd.

"I'm merely saying that at the core of their news-gathering operation is gathering news."

"NOOOOO . . ."


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