Al Cardenas is a “big tent” Republican: The first Hispanic chairman of the American Conservative Union. A strong proponent of minority outreach and immigration reform. A whistle-blower on conservatives who attack their compatriots.
“We are at war with liberals and moderates, but it now seems we have added fellow conservatives as the enemy,” he wrote in Human Events one week ago. “If we go down this road, we will destroy our ability to succeed.”
Yet Cardenas finds himself in the awkward position of defending ACU’s widely criticized decisions to exclude a gay Republican group, GOProud, and the popular Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, from its annual conference next month. It’s oversimplifying to blame the organization’s opposition to same-sex marriage or Christie’s recent apostasies on federal spending, but appearances matter at a time when Republican leaders are trying to project a more modern, inclusive image.
“Al shares with me the idea that building an ideological organization means not to restrict but to encourage people to come in, and ultimately I think that is what will what he will do, but he’s got to contend with these hot-button issues right now,” said David Keene, who served as ACU chairman for nearly three decades and personally recruited Cardenas to succeed him in 2011.
The dual dis-invitations from the largest gathering of conservative activists, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary in March, are fueling conflicts within a Republican Party still reeling from electoral defeat. In a direct challenge to the House Republicans championing the federal law banning same-sex marriage, dozens of prominent Republicans have signed a legal brief filed with the Supreme Court opposing the Defense of Marriage Act. Two of the most powerful conservative advocacy groups in the country are publicly feuding, with the Club for Growth inciting primary challenges to insufficiently conservative members of Congress and Karl Rove’s group American Crossroads declaring war on insufficiently electable potential rivals.
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