Written by Rachel Levine Ramirez
CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, this March attracted over 10,000 conservative activists to the tourist town of National Harbor, Md., just outside Washington. As usual, conference attendees included many of conservatism’s best and brightest: students who head College Republican groups on campus, representatives from non-profits promoting constitutional liberties, leaders of notable think tanks, and writers from highly-esteemed publications (depending, of course, on whom you ask).
The official theme of this year’s CPAC was “Our Time Is Now,” stemming from Ronald Reagan’s 1981 address to the conference where he said: “Fellow citizens, fellow conservatives, our time is now. Our moment has arrived. We stand together shoulder to shoulder in the thickest of the fight.”
This year, sentiment on the ground ranged from “our time is now…to stop Trump” to “our time is now…to make America great again” – and even, “our time is now…to get past the security barricades set up by Ben Carson’s Secret Service detail.”
CPAC exposes students and others to the tools they need to be stronger activists, but the direction that activism takes is by no means uniform. Teens and young adults with Rubio campaign stickers rolled their eyes at the groups of older women wearing Cruz pins. The National Review booth was frequently greeted with Trump supporters, espousing maxims such as, “Make America Great Again” and “Mitt Romney is a loser.” Comically, and to make a point, National Review printed a Donald Trump cut-out. Trump supporters obviously weren’t fans of the T-shirt attached to the cutout, sporting the cover of National Review’s “Against Trump” issue.
Trump, slated to speak at CPAC on the morning of the final day of the conference, bowed out at the last minute, citing the need to campaign in other states. When this news began to murmur through the crowd, young activists quickly pulled out their phones and navigated to Politico for confirmation. Apparently, some groups at CPAC were organizing a walkout during Trump’s speech and Q&A. Speculation ensued about whether Trump was nervous that a walkout could hurt him in the primaries. Some contended that Trump’s absence confirmed that he was afraid to be judged by over 10,000 conservative activists because, in fact, he did not promote conservative ideals.
Even though most attendees identified as Republican, disagreements were rampant on the direction of the party, the state of the economy, and who is best able to solve America’s problems.
Many things can accurately be said about conservatives but, as CPAC confirms, conformity is not one of them. For most attendees, the diversity of conservatism is a badge of honor – along similar lines to how William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review, described the publication’s mission statement in its first issue: “The largest cultural menace in America is the conformity of the intellectual cliques which, in education as well as the arts, are out to impose upon the nation their modish fads and fallacies, and have nearly succeeded in doing so. In this cultural issue, we are, without reservations, on the side of excellence (rather than “newness”) and of honest intellectual combat (rather than conformity).”
The diverse attendees at CPAC included an African-American veteran carrying a sign with the words “Veterans Against Trump,” the most well-spoken ten-year-old I’ve ever met, young women of the Daughters of the American Revolution, students from Princeton, Harvard, Liberty University, and even a few students from NYU. CPAC this year represented differences in opinions (based on facts, for the most part) about the future of the Republican Party in the face of the 2016 election. For the sake of the future of our country, let’s hope CPAC attendees continue this trend of honest intellectual combat, even if the new ideas they hear do not come from their own party.