Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is making no apologies for the organizers of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
This year's conference has drawn significant attention for excluding prominent conservative gay rights groups and certain high-profile politicians, including Govs. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) and Chris Christie (R-N.J.), while inviting media personalities like Donald Trump.
Although Gingrich is slated to speak at the conference, he told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday that he didn't "know what the purpose of CPAC is anymore."
"CPAC at one time was sort of the militant wing of the conservative movement. ... But I don't know how they define who gets to come in and who doesn't get to come in," he said. "And, my sense is the board is not very open and not very clear about, you know, whether these are just personality decisions or what they're thinking."
Christie was the keynote speaker at last year's CPAC. But organizers of this year's event pointed to some of his more moderate stances -- support for gun control and cooperation with President Barack Obama on Hurricane Sandy relief -- as reasons why he is being shut out now.
Gingrich said CPAC's decision to shun Christie overlooked "his record on controlling spending and reforming New Jersey government." The former presidential candidate went on to call Christie "pretty courageous" for his reforms as "a Northeastern governor in a heavily unionized state."
CPAC organizers have not given a reason for not including McDonnell, who was once a favorite on the right and a potential vice presidential nominee. But like Christie, he has recently upset conservatives by bucking party orthodoxy. He backed a transportation deal that raises taxes and agreed with Democrats to support Medicaid expansion.
Conservative commentators have vocalized their dissent of CPAC's exclusions, noting that they may send a message that buttresses a commonly held belief that the Republican Party is in need of an overhaul. Leading voices in the conservative media, including the editorial board of the National Review and Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, specifically questioned the decisions to not invite Christie and conservative gay rights group, GOProud. "Maybe it is time to rethink the strategy of systematically shrinking the tent," Rubin wrote on Sunday.
On Wednesday, Gingrich told Ingraham she was "exactly right" when she said the CPAC's organizers "shouldn't be surprised when people criticize them."