A secretive group that serves as the umbrella operation for leaders and activists within the conservative movement will host two meetings in the coming months, National Journal has learned, the first to vet Republican presidential candidates and the second to discuss coalescing behind one of them.So who are these folks?
The Council for National Policy, a shadowy organization of several hundred dues-paying members, typically meets three times a year in various locations around the country. But with the 2016 cycle accelerating, and many conservative leaders intent on rallying behind a single candidate, CNP's leadership is taking extraordinary measures -- scheduling two top-priority meetings outside of Washington -- and inviting a large number of nonmembers to both....
This sequence of events will be the manifestation of a year's worth of private meetings around the country ... in which leaders from the faith and tea-party communities have agreed on the importance of rallying their followers behind a single conservative candidate who might stand a chance of defeating the "establishment" favorite in the GOP primary....
CNP is known to represent all three legs of the conservative "stool" -- social, fiscal, and national security -- but there has always been a special emphasis on the first. CNP is currently led by Tony Perkins, who also serves in a much more visible role as president of the Family Research Council in Washington.See, I want to believe that these people can gum up the works for Jeb Bush, and for the Establishmentarians who want to force him on the GOP base. I want to believe that they can get an unelectable religious-right zealot nominated. But I don't think they have the juice.
If it were ten, twenty, or thirty years ago, I'd say a group like this would have real clout:
CNP was conceived in 1981 by at least five fathers, including the Rev. Tim LaHaye, an evangelical preacher who was then the head of the Moral Majority. (LaHaye is the co-author of the popular Left Behind series that predicts and subsequently depicts the Apocalypse). Nelson Baker Hunt, billionaire son of billionaire oilman H.L. Hunt (connected to both the John Birch Society and to Ronald Reagan's political network), businessman and one-time murder suspect T. Cullen Davis, and wealthy John Bircher William Cies provided the seed money.
... Christian activist Paul Weyrich took responsibility for bringing together the best minds of conservatism, and his imprint on the group's mission is unmistakable....
... the CNP has functioned as a sausage factory for conservative ideas of a particular goût: strong affirmations of military power, Christian heritage, traditional values, and leave-us-alone-get-off-our-backs legislation.
The group has (or used to have) a kingmaker reputation, primarily for this reason:
In 1999, candidate George W. Bush spoke before a closed-press CNP session in San Antonio. His speech, contemporaneously described as a typical mid-campaign ministration to conservatives, was recorded on audio tape.More recently, the CNP gained notoriety for putting up fierce resistance to Rudy Giuliani in his pursuit of the 2008 nomination, and for opposing Mitt Romney in that same campaign.
(Depending on whose account you believe, Bush promised to appoint only anti-abortion-rights judges to the Supreme Court, or he stuck to his campaign "strict constructionist" phrase. Or he took a tough stance against gays and lesbians, or maybe he didn't).
... Shortly thereafter, magisterial conservatives pronounced the allegedly moderate younger Bush fit for the mantle of Republican leadership.
The two events might not be connected. But since none of the participants would say what Bush said, the CNP's kingmaking role mushroomed in the mind's eye, at least to the Democratic National Committee....
But John McCain wasn't a favorite in this crowd, and he won the '08 nomination. Then Romney won it four years later, even though the group helped raise $1.8 million for Rick Santorum (late in the process, which probably helps explain why there's an effort under way by the group to pick a candidate early this time).
It's been widely reported that Sarah Palin was vetted by CNP before John McCain put her on his ticket in 2008. But I don't see anything similar about Paul Ryan in 2012, although you can find praise for him on CNP's website (here's David Limbaugh saying "thank God for Paul Ryan" in a 2012 speech to CNP).
I suspect you can't challenge these guys too forcefully if you want to be on the GOP ticket, but I think Jeb and the fillers of his war chest can probably roll right over them. The most I'll say is that if he wins the nomination he'll probably have to mollify them with his VP choice, and since they're also defense hard-liners, he's not going to pick Rand Paul as his running mate. But I would be delighted to be wrong about this. I hope these folks make a lot of mischief.