CPAC 2013: David Keene

Written by Juliana Simone

March 16, 2013

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David Keene CPAC 2013

National Harbor, MD – The National Rifle Association, President David A. Keene, opened his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on the third day of the event, by saying he was not going to speak about the second amendment. Keene elected to use his time to talk about the GOP divide. “The Republican Party’s been left for dead many times but it’s always managed to come back,” he said.

The former American Conservative Chairman, who held the seat from 1984 to 2011, or over a quarter century, used his experience and expertise to review the Republican Party, past and present.

Under Nixon, he recollected, there was a project known as “Operation Switch.” This plan involved getting Republican elected officials to get Democrats to switch parties. A Republican leader he knew said to him, “we don’t want those people in our Party – they’ll change our policies.” Keene told the audience that he may have been right, because that legislator lost his seat soon afterwards.

Under Reagan, who got here under Goldwater {the former five term U.S. Senator from Arizona who was the Republican Party’s nominee for President in 1964 and was an advocate for conservatism} and was originally a registered Democrat before becoming a staunch Republican, reminded his colleagues that they needed to accept the fact that when new people come in, they want a voice. Keene said the Party didn’t welcome those either.

Evangelicals came in next, and many today are part of the new/old Republican establishment, Keene observed. The Party didn’t want them. When fully 50% of all votes counted in a Republican primary were cast by people under thirty, the Party didn’t want them. Now, Rand Paul, who became a hero to many, {referring to his recent filibuster on the Senate floor where the Kentucky legislator spoke for thirteen hours in protest to President Obama’s choice to head the CIA} the Party says we don’t want him, regardless of the many young people who support him.

“Establishments grow or die…bring people in or drive people out,” Keene continued. “Our movement is based on ideals and principles…if the Republican Party has exclusion policies, they won’t win and will look back at their glory days.”

The Chairman recalled when Ronald Reagan came to CPAC, but emphasized Reagan and Goldwater didn’t start the conservative movement; writers like William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman and George Stigler did with their publications, along with groups like the Philadelphia Society.

The Eisenhower/Taft war for the Party’s nomination for President also showed the divide within the Party historically, Keene mentioned, and when Dwight Eisenhower won, Taft withdrew his name after speaking negatively about Eisenhower’s win. {Taft was quoted as saying after his loss, “Every Republican candidate for President since 1936 has been nominated by the Chase National Bank.”}

Keene explained further that Goldwater’s book, {published in 1960} “Conscience of a Conservative” made him a hero overnight. “Eisenhower produced Phyllis Schlafly and Goldwater produced Ron Reagan.”

In remembering President Reagan, Keene said Ronald Reagan brought an optimism to the Conservative Party…he had the ability and true belief…he knew we were right and they were wrong; our ideas work and there’s don’t; and he had faith in the common sense of Americans. The course he charted for us brings us to political gains and achievements.

Keene mentions Bill Kristol {founder of The Weekly Standard} and how it’s believed the only reason to be in politics is to gain power. “Wrong,” states Keene, highlighting that “we’re involved because we care…and they’re wrong and we’re right…”

In addressing the present, David Keene suggested to his fellow conservatives, “what we need to do is look at how effectively we communicate our values to those who aren’t as obsessed with politics as we are.”

He spoke about successful political movements and how they start out by electoral wins with good communication. Talking about opponents, he said, “their road is going to lead us somewhere we don’t want to go…our job is to show them this…we’ve done this before and can do it again.” Talking about his fellow conservatives, he said, “We conservatives have our differences. We’re a fractious bunch…we’ve never walked in lockstep and never will – it would be boring if we did.”

Following his observations today, Keene felt a Party that can do this will survive, grow and win, and noted it’s why we strive not to change their appeal. “Freedom is always a better alternative to slavery,” Keene said in parting.

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