There's no liberal equivalent. There are gatherings that get coverage, but they don't have that same sort of high-profile speaker line-ups and often lack the fire and brimstone you get at CPAC. It's easier to rant against Washington when your party doesn't control the White House, of course, but even in that short window when the Bush years overlapped with a splintered digital media, there wasn't a Democratic focal point.
The GOP will transition from CPAC to the 2016 fight with very little delay; in fact, nearly all coverage of the CPAC speeches is already using a 2016 lens. The first debates aren't for a few months -- August to be exact -- but bear in mind that it has already been two months since Jeb Bush announced his leadership PAC/presidential campaign. Time flies when you're obsessed with a presidential election. Before you know it, it will be late summer, and the Republican candidates will be fighting and clawing in preparation for Iowa. And the political press will talk about one thing: Republican politics.
On the Democratic side, well, there's Hillary Clinton. It's increasingly apparent that she won't face any real opposition in her walk to the nomination in Philadelphia. Jim Webb? Bernie Sanders? Martin O'Malley? No television network is going to preempt an evening's programming to watch Clinton swat them away. Part of the motivation for getting Elizabeth Warren into the race is that her politics are considered more liberal, particularly on economic issues. But in part, it's because there's perhaps no one else who might actually offer Clinton a real contest. Without a real contest, we'll have her announcement, a few speeches after Clinton wins a few big states, and the convention. But otherwise, what?
The theory goes that this is advantageous for Clinton. That she can sit back and raise money and, as needed, bash whoever's popping up in the GOP field. There's validity to that, to be sure. But it also means that the voices that capture the public's attention will be the Republicans criticizing each other -- and her. Especially her. Running some ads or announcing fundraising numbers won't change that. (Nor, it's safe to assume, would another book.)
There is recent evidence that this alleged disadvantage won't matter. In 2011 and early 2012, the conversation was all Republican, all the time. And Obama lackadaisically walked to victory that November. Will voters be as excited about electing Hillary Clinton as they were about reelecting Barack Obama? Perhaps. But it seems very safe to consider that they perhaps may not be. And in 2012, voters were considering someone with a known record who was sitting in the White House. Clinton needs to get people to hear her platform and to get them to believe that she is something new and fresh -- an opportunity she won't likely get until the general election.
This may not matter. Predicting politics a year from now is a fool's errand; there could be a real Democratic nomination fight or a quick Republican one. We'll see. But it's hard to see how 12 to 14 months of increasingly refined debate over which Republican solution will best address America's problems -- and how Hillary Clinton is a move in the wrong direction -- is a good thing for those hoping to elect a Democrat.