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When I attended my first CPAC in 2015, I was encouraged by the promotion of a big-tent party where people like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz had just as much of a place as Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. The outsiders like Nigel Farage and Donald Trump were seen by most attendees as interesting sideshow performances, but nothing more. The vibe suggested a moment of soul-searching for conservatives.
Three years later and CPAC could not be any more of a different experience. The speaker list was mostly full of Trump allies or those who remain strategically independent. The vibe was more reminiscent of a populist rally. The sideshow became the main attraction.
Simply put, the circus has gone too far, and many conservatives no longer feel welcome. For example, individuals like Mona Charen, a longtime conservative who worked under William Buckley and President Reagan, was booed off the stage for criticizing the right’s dismissal of sexual abuse and harassment issues, as well as some of this year’s controversial speakers.
“I am disappointed in people on our side for being hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers of women who are in our party, who are sitting in the White House, who brag about their extramarital affairs, who brag about mistreating women,” Charen said Saturday. “This is a party that endorsed Roy Moore for the Senate in the state of Alabama even though he was a credibly accused child molester. You cannot claim that you stand for women and put up with that.”
Charen wrote in the New York Times that she was happy to have been booed off of the stage:
“There is nothing more freeing than telling the truth. And it must be done, again and again, by those of us who refuse to be absorbed into this brainless, sinister, clownish thing called Trumpism, by those of us who refuse to overlook the fools, frauds and fascists attempting to glide along in his slipstream into respectability.”
Another telling moment was when Ian Walters, the ACU’s Communications Director, told Ronald Reagan Dinner attendees that former Republican Party chairman Michael Steele was only elected “because he’s a black guy.” This was met by sharp criticism from Steele himself, who was there covering the conference for his Sirius XM show, Steele & Ungar. The ACU’s chairman, Matt Schlapp, appeared on that program with Steele to convince him that the comments were “unfortunate.” He did not, however, distance himself from the comments, and suggested that Steele was controversial because he criticizes the GOP and President Trump too frequently.
“What the hell does my race have to do with any of that?” Steele asked Schlapp. “It is stupid to sit there and say that we elected a black man chairman of the party and that was a mistake.”
We Must Speak Out
At last year’s CPAC, I met a reader who inquired why my colleagues and I often reprimand our fellow conservatives here at OUTSET. My response was that regulating our own side was often times more important than attacking our political opponents. So, I write this negative review not out of spite, but out of disappointment and hope.
I’m disappointed in the ACU for advancing a virus within our movement without regard to the long-term effects much like a style editor who abandons solid principles and endorses male rompers. I’m disappointed that young conservatives like myself no longer feel welcome at CPAC. But, I do have hope that those of us who don’t agree with the direction our movement is going in will do more than sit idly by as opportunities for us to meet, collaborate, and, of course, drink, disappear.