In a gargantuan Maryland hotel on the banks of the Potomac River, the CPAC conference is at once a conservative echo chamber, bustling bazaar and media marketplace.

It is a hermetically sealed environment where Ronald Reagan is praised, Jimmy Carter is reviled and one Republican speaker, Rep. Louie Gohmert, is still arguing that America could have won the Vietnam War.

The three-day extravaganza, which kicked off Thursday morning, has no power to pass laws or set agendas. But the gathering, staged by the American Conservative Union, has become the place to be, if only because everyone else on the right is here.

Well, not everyone. Two Republican governors, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, were notably snubbed because they didn’t pass some ideological purity test.

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