Thousands of conservatives are converging on the Gaylord National Hotel in Maryland this week for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). It's the "Who's Who" of right-leaning politicians, activists, journalists, media stars, and other icons of the Conservative movement. CPAC is a political rally, trade show, strategic planning tool, and merchandise market all rolled into one. This year has a more special, celebratory feel than in years past since the GOP are in control of the government, and the President and Vice President are scheduled to speak.
In 1964, when Barry Goldwater suffered a humiliating defeat to Lyndon B. Johnson in the presidential election, conservatives knew they had to organize to ensure their message would endure for generations. The American Conservative Union (ACU) was born a few months later with the goal of promoting a sound,principled message and promoting politicos who exemplified those same values. By 1974, the first CPAC conference occurred drawing 400 people to hear headliner Ronald Reagan speak. These were difficult years for the conservative movement after Richard Nixon was ousted from the White House in disgrace. It's an event that has come a long way since its meager beginnings attracting over 10,000 attendees in recent years.
One would think a conservative conference would be a bland gathering devoid of dissension, but CPAC has had its share of controversies. In 2007, media personality and author, Ann Coulter, used a homophobic slur to describe politician John Edwards during her CPAC speech. In 2011, a boycott of some sponsors occurred because of GOProud, an openly gay Republican group, also sponsored the event. Milo Yiannapoulis is the latest to fall victim to CPAC scandal. Many conservatives were angered that the "alt-right" provocateur was invited to be the keynote speaker. His invitation was rescinded after an old tape surfaced in which he appeared to be defending the merits of pedophilia between adults and teenage boys.
President Trump and CPAC:
To the keen-eyed observer, CPAC acted as a launching pad for President Trump's political career. In 2011, Trump was a big hit as he used his speech to ponder a future presidential run. Trump's quotes echoed many of the same sentiments he used to win the 2016 election: "And I can tell you this; if I run and if I win, this country will be respected again." Despite Trump's victory, Conservatives remain split on their feelings towards President Trump. Many have doubts about how conservative he really is given his liberal history. Social conservatives are thrilled over his choice of Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court Justice, but fiscal conservatives are unsettled due to his protectionist views on trade. In 2016, Trump dropped out of CPAC over a format dispute, choosing to campaign instead.
The Straw Poll
A big highlight at the close of CPAC is their annual Straw Poll. Instead of voting on presidential candidate choices, this go-around conservatives will get to vote on the issues they deem most important.
The ACU figured out a while ago that big benefits could be gained courting the younger generation. Sponsors help pay for accommodations and registration fees for young conservatives, which helps build loyalty for the movement. It helps bring like-minded college students together to strategize for the future of conservativism in America.
Highlights from CPAC 2017:
Thursday: Vice President Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway, Senator Ted Cruz, Sheriff David Clarke, Matt Schlapp, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Judge Jeanine Pirro
Friday: President Donald J. Trump, Lou Dobbs, Nigel Farage, Wayne LaPierre, Sebastian Gorka, John Bolton, Carly Fiorina, Michael Reagan
Saturday: Rick Santorum, Susan Page, Dave Bossie