Oddities and ends at CPAC

I look forward to the CPAC conference every year because it brings John Hinderaker to town and we get together for dinner, along with his wonderful wife Loree. I don’t attend the conference and watch little of it on television. This year I saw only a portion of President Trump’s two-hour performance.

I was struck, though, when I heard about some of the panels. First, let’s nominate Alex Azar for team-player of the year. The Secretary of HHS appeared on a panel with Alex Acosta, the rightfully beleaguered Secretary of Labor. (Linda McMahon, the former wrestling mogul and now Administrator of the Small Business Administration, was also on the panel.)

I don’t know Azar at all, but I can’t imagine he was thrilled to appear with Acosta, the guy who cut that sweetheart deal with pedophile Jeffrey Epstein and who recently was found by a district court judge to have violated federal law in the process.

Why did CPAC think it was good idea to have Acosta participate at its conference? I don’t know. I have never quite understood the wheels within the wheels of that operation.

Another discussion featured Sen. Josh Hawley and Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. They discussed the too-cozy relationship between the government and big tech. Two worthy participants and a worthwhile topic, for sure.

However, the Journal’s editorial page had recently smeared Hawley for daring to have questions about a judicial nominee’s position on abortion/substantive due process/the concept of “dignity” in constitutional adjudication. And shortly before the Senator’s appearance with Strassel, it had written a follow-up editorial attacking Hawley again.

I’m told there was no visible tension between Hawley and Strassel on stage. I wonder whether there might have been an awkward moment or two backstage, though.

The CPAC conference attendees were also treated to a speech by Van Jones. He’s the lefty conspiracy theorist the Obama administration had to get rid of for being too left-wing and too nasty. Now he’s a favorite of the Koch Brothers for working with their operation on leniency for drug felons legislation.

That was enough to land a featured role at CPAC.

I have nothing against “big tent” conservatism. But fawning over Van Jones is “big tent” without conservatism.

Nor is CPAC really about big tent conservatism. Recall that a few years ago, CPAC featured a panel touting the desirability of amnesty for illegal immigrants, another Koch Brothers pet project. There was no room for conservatives who oppose such amnesty. CPAC shut them out.

This particular outrage no longer occurs at CPAC. This year the immigration discussion was called “Nationhood and the Border Crisis.” It featured Sen. Ted Cruz and Rich Lowry.

But the change is due only to the fact that Donald Trump came along with a very different message on immigration than the one peddled at CPAC in the past. We may not have seen the last of stacked pro-amnesty panels at CPAC, or of the Koch Brothers’ ally Van Jones.