by Alan Fisher
In just over a week's time Republicans from all over the United States will get together in their biggest gathering since last year's party convention in Florida.
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington is a chance for officials and the activists to mull over last November's presidential election defeat and decide what comes next.
Republicans have been involved in some deep thinking since US President Barack Obama kept the keys to the White House. The initial belief that his impressive performance during Hurricane Sandy was the difference between success and failure, that Republicans would have won with better weather, has long since disappeared.
Many smart voices believe that the party has to fundamentally change if it is to attract the voters it needs to take back the Presidency. They accept this wasn't a failure to communicate a message, or a failure to spend millions of dollars at the right time in the election cycle; this was a significant rejection of basic Republican thinking. And while there isn't quite a battle for the soul of the party – there are others who insist failure follows the selection of moderate, middle of the road candidates with independent views rather than dyed in the wool, fiscal and social conservatives.
With an official motto "America's Future" The Next Generation of Conservatives', CPAC will discuss and debate the way forward.
Mitt Romney will be there, his first public address since his concession speech in November. And Sarah Palin will speak. Both will get warm welcomes and cheers and people will talk about how much they like both, but neither are the future of the Republican Party. Neither has the fresh ideas or revolutionary thinking needed to transform and energise the Conservative movement in the US.
'Less Chris Christie'
Missing will be New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie. He was not invited. Many believe it's because he hugged Obama when he turned up to give his support in the aftermath and the mess of Hurricane Sandy. Or because he gave backing for some gun control legislation following the mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.
Yet he is a Republican governor in a hugely Democratic state, who recently recorded an approval rating of 74 percent. He's up for election later this year and the Democrats fear they have no-one who can beat him.
He attracts support from Democrats and Independents, and in the eyes of some Republicans that makes him suspect.
That then calls into question if the Conservative Action Political Conference is truly a forum for debate; if there really will be a full throated passionate discussion on the direction of the Republican Party and how it can expand its appeal to voters without losing sight of some essential ideological touchstones.
James Carville, the democratic strategist who helped take Bill Clinton to the White House believes the Republicans are making a significant mistake by promoting speakers from the fringes of the party which in turns helps the Democrats: "Any day you have more Sarah Palin and less Chris Christie is a good day".
Florida senator, Mario Rubio will also address the conference, the man most Republicans would pick today to be the next Presidential candidate. Paul Ryan, who was the Vice Presidential nominee will speak, as will Jeb Bush, who remains a popular figure.
The keynote address will be delivered by Texas Senator, Ted Cruz; newly elected but building a reputation on Capitol Hill as an aggressive and combative conservative.
All will watch the result of the Presidential straw poll, feigning nonchalance but secretly hoping the result matches their political aspirations. They would do well to remember that previous winners include Jack Kemp, Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani and Ron Paul. Mitt Romney won it four times. Only two winners, Ronald Reagan and George W Bush have gone on to the White House.
Jennifer Rubin, writing in the Washington Post, believes conservatives are not split into right wingers and moderates. Instead, she's been told, they are divided in those who can count and those who can't. And if Conservatives can't quickly work out how to attract more voters - those who won't be in the hall during the conference – then it doesn't matter what agenda they finally pursue.
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