Thousands of conservatives are meeting from Feb. 10 through Feb. 12 in the nation's capital for the Conservative Political Action Committee's annual convention.
In recent years the CPAC gatherings are where the Republican presidential hopefuls have been rolled out before the public. This year's event also features speeches and parties given by Ann Coulter, Grover Norquist, David Horowitz, George Will and other leading lights of the right. Among the attendees are not just run-of-the-mill conservatives but extreme right-wingers, including backers of the tea party.
The CPAC issued an 18 page schedule with well over 100 items on the agenda. "There's one word you won't find on that agenda," said Mike Hall, a writer for the AFL-CIO's Now Blog. "That word is 'jobs.' Not one workshop, breakout session or featured speaker is dedicated to the nation's most pressing need - jobs and job creation."
As at recent CPAC gatherings, the majority of the speakers so far have attacked President Obama, health care reform, the "liberal media," immigration reform and "big labor."
"With all that conservative brain power in one place, you would think they would want to use at least some of it to ponder fixing the economy that now is in its 21st month with unemployment at 9 percent or higher and that has nearly 27 million U.S. workers either jobless or in need of full time work," said Hall.
The GOP itself has put forward a budget plan that similarly makes no mention of jobs.
"It only addresses the job situation insofar as they went through President Obama's budget line-by-line and axed every single jobs creation initiative that he's proposed," said Daily Kos' Jed Lewison.
Although the CPAC agenda leaves out jobs, it is expected that most of the GOP presidential candidates speaking at the conference this week will have to, at least, mention the issue. Candidates clearly running who will speak include former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Among those weighing potential candidacies who will also speak are Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
Some social conservatives have attacked CPAC for including in its sponsorship list this year the Log Cabin Republicans, whose members are openly gay and for being too libertarian, in general.
The split between social conservatives and libertarians threatens to divide the political right not only at CPAC but for some time to come. "Anyone speaking at CPAC with an eye towards his or her presidential campaign would be foolhardy to ignore marriage and the life issue," Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, a social conservative group, told the press.
The annual straw poll of preferences for a presidential candidate held at the end of the conference is a big deal in conservative politics even though, more than anything else, it probably measures which campaign bought the largest number of the 10,000 tickets sold for the event.
Mitt Romney, who won the 2008 and 2009 straw polls, will try to win again this year.
There are other splits, including a participating group that is hosting a film, for example, that purports to show how CPAC itself has been taken over by Muslim extremists. Longtime pillars of the conservative movement, the Heritage Foundation and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina are skipping this year's gathering because of controversy surrounding what they see as an extremist gay rights group - GOProud. The group has participated in recent CPAC gatherings.
Another new and divisive feature this year is the tea party. The closing keynote will be delivered by extremist Florida Rep. Allen West, who Politico described as a "bomb thrower."
"With the electoral wins under their belt, they [the tea party] have only enhanced their standing within the conservative movement," American Conservative Union member Suhail Khan said of the tea partiers. The ACU is one of the main sponsors of the CPAC gathering.