US Republicans meet in midst of identity crisis to search for a star

Romney, Palin and Bush to address three-day gathering for some soul-searching

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky at  the Conservative Political Action Conference in  Maryland yesterday. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland yesterday. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Fri, Mar 15, 2013, 06:00

US Republicans have gathered in Maryland for the Conservative Political Action Conference. The party is using the three-day conclave to search its soul for a new identity and party ranks for a future presidential star following last year’s humbling election defeat at the hands of Democratic president Barack Obama.

The who’s who of conservative politics has an unusual line- up as it draws on the past by hosting speakers Mitt Romney, last year’s losing Republican candidate, and Sarah Palin, John McCain’s 2008 running mate, but is reluctant to embrace the future by inviting popular GOP figures.

Neither New Jersey governorChris Christie nor Virginia ’s Bob McDonnell were invited to the conservative love-in at National Harbour, Maryland, although potential Republican nominees in the 2016 presidential race – Florida senator Marco Rubio, Mr Romney’s running mate congressman Paul Ryan and Kentucky senator Rand Paul, a favourite of the far-right Tea Party – are all featuring prominently.

Al Cardenas, the conference chairman, responded to criticism of Mr Christie’s omission, arguing that he had not “earned his wings” this year by agreeing to the expansion of Medicaid, the federal healthcare plan for the poor, and by standing with the president on a $60 billion (€44 billion) bill for Hurricane Sandy relief.

This 40th conference of 8,000 conservative leaders and activists, the largest gathering of conservatives in the US, offers an important platform to would- be presidential nominees looking to speak directly to the key conservative voters

This gathering, just south of Washington DC, is more relevant than ever as Republicans seek to regroup and broaden their appeal among voters following last year’s election defeat.

“The current disarray is actually pretty healthy,” former house speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, a speaker on the third day, said.

Other speakers include former Florida governor Jeb Bush, brother of the former president George W Bush, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindall and property tycoon-turned-reality TV star Donald Trump.

There was surprise at Mr Bush’s omission from a list of 23 names on a straw poll of GOP presidential nominees. Mr Bush, who will speak tomorrow, asked not to be included.