What a time for a conservative civil war. As Republicans bask in their 2010 election victories, a fight over Muslims and gays is crashing into the biggest righty confab: this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference, run by the influential American Conservative Union. Instead of popping champagne corks, outgoing ACU Chairman David Keene finds himself battling charges that his CPAC is leaning left.
At issue are charges that ACU and CPAC are embracing Muslim terrorists and gays. The reaction has been swift, with the Heritage Foundation think tank pulling out of CPAC after sponsoring it for years, and the Family Research Council, which opposes abortion and gay rights, staying away from the conference, which ends Saturday.
“Our basic concern is that it’s getting hard to see what kind of event CPAC is going to be this year,” says Heritage spokesman James Weidman. “You’ve just got so many different groups going in there that have messages ranging from the not-conservative to wing-nutty.”
Keene shrugs, noting the long list of conservative stalwarts speaking at the Thursday-Saturday event, including Donald Rumsfeld, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney. “What more do I need to say?” Keene asks. “Our mission is not to narrowly define conservatism but to get groups from every wing of the movement together once a year.”
Charges that CPAC is pro-gay result from Keene letting the group GOProud participate. Keene says he warned GOProud not to press gay issues at CPAC. “They said that’s fine,” he recalls. “ ‘We want to talk about taxes. We want to talk about Social Security. We want to talk about those things.’ And then I said you’re welcome to come.”
The claim that Keene is sympathetic to Muslim anarchists comes because he has a Muslim American, Suhail Khan, on his board of directors. In 1999, Kahn portrayed Muslims as victims of American discrimination and violence. Critic Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy, charges that Kahn “is either a Muslim brother [member of the Muslim Brotherhood] or is a man so closely tied to them that he does not appreciate they are the enemy of the United States.” Kahn, who was an aide to President George W. Bush, says flatly: “Frank does not believe Muslim Americans should serve in government.”
Keene mocks Gaffney’s claims that Kahn somehow put terrorists in charge of foreign policy under Bush or at ACU and CPAC. “The whole thing in my mind is totally and completely absurd,” says Keene.