Conservatives Gear Up for 2016 – Plan Two Secret Meetings to Pick a Candidate to Endorse

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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.

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, D.C., and inviting a large number of non-members to both.

The group will host a two-day summit on May 15 and 16 at the Ritz-Carlton in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. The format will be simple: Candidates will have an hour on stage to address the room and answer questions, followed by 30 minutes of meet-and-greet with guests. Organizers say they’ve begun sending invitations to all of the major Republican candidates – “even Chris Christie,” one said – and several candidates have already committed to the event.

The candidates’ performances in May could have enormous implications. That’s because five months later, CNP will reconvene – in the same city, at the same hotel – but with a different agenda: To begin narrowing its list of candidates with the aim of collectively supporting just one.

This sequence of events will be the manifestation of a year’s worth of private meetings around the country, as first detailed by National Journal last October, 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.

“The reason extraordinary steps are being taken, is that the calendar has been shrunk. The RNC for political as well as financial reasons has tightened the schedule,” said one of CNP’s organizers, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the group’s strict off-the-record rules. “As a consequence, there is a suspicion that [the primary] is going to be decided much earlier. So the reason for this open forum is, we want to see if there are any early signs of folks who won’t be able to keep pace with the stronger dogs in the race.”

Already in the past year CNP has hosted a handful of conservative favorites for extended vetting sessions. Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee delivered dueling addresses to the group’s September conference in Atlanta; Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and Carly Fiorina spoke to CNP at its February gathering in California.

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.

Because of its 501(c)3 status, CNP cannot itself endorse any candidate for office. But its overarching structure allows the group’s members – who lead some of the nation’s most influential conservative organizations, such as the Club for Growth and Citizens United – to work collectively while vetting candidates and discussing a coordinated endorsement from their respective groups. CNP’s membership, which organizers estimate at between 250 and 300, is not solely comprised of activist leaders, however. The group has long been home to those lobbyists, donors, think-tankers and Hill staffers who help fund and execute the movement’s agenda.

CNP participants pay $2500 for a basic annual membership – much more for an advanced membership – and they must be nominated by a member to gain access to the group in the first place. Members are also allowed to nominate a guest to bring to CNP’s meetings, though the number of non-members in attendance is typically low.

These two upcoming meetings will be made all the more atypical, then, by the admittance of a larger number of non-CNP members. Another prominent conservative umbrella group, the Conservative Action Project, will meet at the Ritz in Tyson’s on March 14 – just one day before the CNP forum convenes. This is not coincidental: The Conservative Action Project was originally formed by CNP members, and the two organizations overlap a great deal in terms of ideology and leadership. The Conservative Action Project was until recently led by former Indiana Rep. David McIntosh, who left in December to become president of the Club for Growth – a group that’s well represented within CNP.

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Source: National Journal | Tim Alberta

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