Are the Big Tent and Bipartisanship the GOP's Problem?

“I don’t think it’s about bipartisanship, it’s about values,” Richardson said of conservatism. “I don’t care what flavor of Republican you are.” The Constitution was written in “plain English” and “delineates God-given rights,” he said.

“Conservatives don’t spend much time telling you what to do … and that’s what the Tea Party is all about,” he said.

But social issues have the conservative crowd divided, despite the strong call from CPAC speakers to stick to their guns on all conservative principles.

“Whatever floats your boat is fine with me, but don’t try to and make us [conservatives] look like the odd man out,” Richardson said of same-sex marriage. “I’m not going to judge, it’s just abnormal. Pick another word.”

Losing the White House even renewed interest in third-party avenues among some participants.

Michael Dormer, a CPAC attendee from Indiana, doesn’t “see a third party emerging any time soon because of our political system,” he said. “However, many parties have come and gone in America. Who says that the two major parties right now will be the two major parties in 2050?”

“A Libertarian party is the only one that could possibly arise as a legitimate contender,” said Paul Roberts, a 50-year-old real estate agent from Georgia who attended the conference. “However, I think this would weaken the GOP.”

But for others, like Richardson, third-party libertarian thinking will draw away from the conservative movement.

Social issues had libertarians refusing to vote for either candidate on the ballot, which led to more Democrats winning, said Richardson. “We both don’t want Democrats,” he said.

In the straw poll, attendees chose Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) as their favored 2016 hopeful. Sen. Paul led the other 23 candidates on the ballot with 25 percent of the vote.

“The new GOP, the GOP that will win again, will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and personal sphere,” Paul said during his speech on Thursday.

Keara Vickers, campus coordinator for Students for Liberty, is a registered Libertarian. She supported Paul during his filibuster and said she was leaning towards casting a ballot for him at the straw poll.

“The GOP is losing a lot on social issues,” she said. The Republican Party “needs to do some soul searching to find the heart of America.” She sees more people responding to the libertarian message of “fiscal responsibility and social tolerance.”

Michael Potaski, state committeeman for the Massachusetts Republican Party, also thinks that the conservative brand is weakening.

“I think the GOP is trying to find its way by trying to accommodate all positions,” Potaski said. “It’s weakening itself. By abandoning principles, you end up with nothing. I think the GOP has to decide what it stands for … this nonsense about a bigger tent weakens the brand. People now wonder what the Republican Party is.”

He said libertarianism should be able to stand on its own and “win elections on their own.”

In Massachusetts, Potaski has seen a decline in GOP registration. He said independents have abandoned the GOP because it “doesn’t stand for anything anymore” and has “abandoned its grass roots.”

“The establishment can’t see that it’s driving people away,” Potaski said. He said he could not increase enrollments until the Republican Party stands for something that will bring people back in.

Wisconsin Gov. Walker thinks he has been doing just that in his state by moving people away from government dependence to “true independence.”

“In America, we believe in the people and not in the government.”

He said Wisconsin is gaining jobs and 93 percent of employers are saying that his state is going in the right direction. That direction is not standing with big business or unions, but “hardworking taxpayers of America.”

“The federal government did not create the states, the states created the federal government,” Walker said. “Real reform does not happen in our nation’s capital, it happens in our state houses across this country.”