CPAC 2013 - Why It Matters, Who's Going, What We Will Learn From It

2016 LIKE IT'S TODAY: As we've already mentioned, this year's conference will include many of the top potential Republican presidential candidates for 2016 (Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, Rick Perry, etc.), so it will be a chance for them to position themselves for the years ahead as they contemplate higher office. And it's clear that after Romney's loss, many conservatives are already focused on taking back the White House in 2016. Of course, the coming midterm elections, and even the two 2013 governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey, will also be a topic of conversation this week, but make no mistake: 2016 is already upon us. CPAC and the Washington Examiner are also collaborating on a 2016 straw poll, the results of which will be announced near the conclusion of the event on Saturday. (We'll see if the Ron Paul forces stack the deck in favor of Rand.) GOP SOUL-SEARCHING: This year's conference comes against a backdrop of intense Republican concern about the future of the party. Just a few days from now -- on this coming Monday -- the Republican National Committee plans to release the results of a months-long effort called the "Growth and Opportunity Project" that is meant to chart a course forward on key issues such as how to better engage minority voters and how to close the GOP's digital divide with Democrats, among other things. But just four months since the November 2012 election it's already clear that there are major divisions within the party on some of these issues -- immigration reform is a good example. And there's no doubt that we'll hear a lot of talk this week about controversies such as the move by the Karl Rove-backed group, American Crossroads, to take an active role in weeding out those they deem "problem" candidates in GOP primaries in favor of those who they believe would be better positioned to win in a general election. We are likely to see the differences and disagreements within the Republican Party in stark relief over the next three days, and it's a story line we will be following closely. ON THE LIGHTER SIDE: CPAC is not just about serious speechmaking and politicking. This year's conference, for example, features a panel called "Fight Club 2013," a debate between liberal heavyweight Paul Begala and conservative pundit Tucker Carlson. There's another panel titled: "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Plastic Water Bottles, Fracking, Genetically Modified Food and Big Gulp Sodas," and yet another called "Getting Hollywood Right." One attendee has even released a helpful guide for fellow conference-goers, "What to Wear at CPAC" (business suits, button-downs, pumps and loafers are in; rompers, halter-tops, T-shirts and Tom's shoes are out). And the nightlife should prove interesting too: on Friday, for example, CPAC is hosting what it's calling the Obama Zombie Apocalypse Party. The motto: "First they come for your brains, then they come for your ballots."

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