‘PROs’ and ‘CONs’ – CPAC, TXOnline and RPTCON14

If you weren’t at the Republican Party of Texas 2014 state convention, you could be forgiven for thinking it was entirely about gays and illegal immigrants and marijuana. Those issues, which were under heavy contention in the party platform, dominated the media coverage throughout the weekend.

But there’s much more to the convention than platform fights. Convention is also when Texas Republicans choose their leadership on the state committee (analogous to the RNC for the country), meet with candidates running for various offices (and hear speeches from some of them, such as Rand Paul), and attend parties and hospitality suites of various candidates and organizations.

The 2014 RPT Convention was my seventh state convention. Not only have I had the chance to witness the changes over the years in how it’s run, but in that time I’ve also been able to attend other political conferences and events. In fact, just this year I have had the opportunity to attend both CPAC and TXOnline as well. Before getting into all the business of the RPT convention, I thought I’d outline what each conference was like, so that people who missed one (or all) can get an idea of what happens at each.

CPAC – The Conservative Political Action Conference is put on by the American Conservative Union. Claiming to be the oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization in the country, the ACU rates the US Congress and the state legislatures, and educates members on conservative issues. But the ACU is particularly known for its annual political conference.

CPAC is like the national pep rally for conservatives. Held in early March, it features a lot (A LOT) of speeches from major political figures, as well as panels (which you can see online) on various topics. Booths of various political organizations populate the exhibitor space as well, where attendees can learn more about issues or how to put conservative ideas into action. Book signings are held in the bookstore there, as most authors who come are eager to spend a little time with fans and admirers. On Radio Row, just outside the main ballroom, conservative media outlets set up and broadcast from the hallway. Then there are the parties, meetings, policy briefings, and other smaller events from conservative organizations. It’s actually quite possible to meet any number of conservative celebrities in person, just by wandering around the Gaylord and surrounding area at National Harbor.

The things I appreciate most about CPAC are the panels, the booths, and the opportunities to catch up with old friends in the movement and make new ones. It’s a very social conference, and attracts many high profile conservatives.

What CPAC isn’t good at is training and preparation for political action. Perhaps that isn’t ACU’s goal; but it seems to me that if you have all those conservative activists in one place, and you’re serving them all that red meat, it would be smart to give them more opportunities to practically focus that energy right away. It feels so much like a wasted opportunity to me. Another consideration is that it is extremely expensive to attend. Both the hotel and conference rates increased in 2014, and transportation is more expensive because of its location off any of the METRO lines. But I hear they’re building a ferris wheel (and perhaps a casino) on the pier at National Harbor, so there’s that.

TXOnline – TXOnline was hosted by Americans for Prosperity Texas, and was held just a couple of weeks ago in The Woodlands, just north of Houston. It was the first state-focused conference of its kind from AFP, and consisted of a series of panel discussions around both the issues and practice of conservativism. I’ve gone into greater detail HERE, and linked to others’ impressions as well, but the best part of TXOnline was how practically focused it was. The discussions that took place over issues such as culture and citizen journalism were way ahead of the usual conservative conference fare, and offered food for serious political discussion that conservatives will be having for years to come. Having panelists stay in the room and question other speakers also helped make the event very different from the usual political conference. Because of the focus both on messaging and the best delivery systems for that messaging, this was a conference I wish had been recorded. Additionally, the $25 registration fee made it extremely affordable.

There’s another opportunity for Texans to attend an AFP conference around Labor Day. The Defending the American Dream Summit will be coming to the Dallas area, and will be significantly larger than TXOnline. If you’ve missed other conferences, you might take a look at attending this one. AFP Dream Summits have all the star power of CPAC and the breakouts that support activism.

RPT Convention – The RPT 2014 Convention was held in Fort Worth last weekend with around 9,000 in attendance. Guests, exhibitors, media, and candidates attended, but the bulk of the people there were elected as either a delegate (or alternate) through the Texas Republican Party convention process. As I stated above, the main business of the convention is to approve a state party platform and to elect party leadership. To that end, voting delegates gathered in general sessions and in caucuses to debate and vote on those things.

The rest of the time is devoted to parties, hospitality suites, exhibit hall meet-and-greets, breakfasts and other events hosted by candidates or organizations. It’s actually possible to pack official activities into every minute of a seventeen-hour day. Of course for some, that can also cut down quite a bit on one’s ability to attend the parts of the convention the next day where the official business is conducted.

New this year at the RPT convention were breakout sessions and a straw poll. I was particularly interested in the breakout sessions, which included legislative updates, social media training, Robert’s Rules instruction, and Obamacare information, among other topics. I’ll have more on those later, but the recognition that the party could (and should) provide training where so many members were gathered in one place was a giant leap from my perspective.

The straw poll (conducted electronically online and limited to registered delegates and alternates) was another interesting addition to the convention. The party had attempted to conduct straw polls in person in the past, which were expensive and problematic. Having delegates vote (again, online!!!) in a straw poll allowed the party to take the pulse of the activists and party regulars to see which candidates were top of mind for Texas Republicans. The results of the poll were:

Ted Cruz 43.4

Ben Carson 12.2

Rand Paul 12.1

Rick Perry 11.7

Then the dropoff begins, with no other candidate even polling above 4%:

Jeb Bush 3.3

Scott Walker 2.9

Marco Rubio 2.6

Paul Ryan 2.0

Rick Santorum 1.9

Bobby Jindal 1.7

Chris Christie 1.3

Mike Pence .6

John Kasich .5

Steve King .2

Other 2.7

Undecided 1.1

Yes, that ’2nd Amendment Squish’ Ben Carson came in second, and both Christie and Santorum were outpolled by ‘Other.’ Interesting results.

As I locate any of the speeches online from the convention, I’ll link them here, but it appears I was the only one who captured Rand Paul’s speech in its entirety. That’s sad, too. There were countless media outlets and campaign staffers in addition to party officials, and there isn’t any official video uploaded that I can find yet. Perhaps it’s forthcoming, but in the digital age, we ought to be able to see these speeches uploaded almost immediately. And it would have been very helpful to see the panels filmed and shared as well, for those of us who wanted to attend more sessions than we had time for. And how great would it be if the party had them available on the website for all the people who didn’t get to make it to convention? That’s certainly something to push for next time.