The Tragedy of CPAC and Principles First
Every February, the Conservative Political Action Conference comes to National Harbor, Maryland, where conservative activists gather to hear from the best conservatism has to offer. Or at least that’s the theory.
The sad reality is that CPAC in 2020 is more like TPAC, where the ‘T’ stands for “Trump.” I went to CPAC last year as a member of the press and it seemed like anyone who was not wearing the pink lanyard that identified members of the media was wearing a red Trump hat.
You could make the argument that once upon a time CPAC was important, but now it seems as if it’s just a place for college students looking for a different kind of action.
Attendees come to hear speeches from politicians who end up giving speeches that one would expect from a politician. Speeches and panels from non-politicians are, with few exceptions, not much different.
Diamond and Silk? Seriously? How does that help the movement?
If you were to ask anybody what good CPAC does, most people probably would not know. It just sort of exists as a place for like minded people to listen to each other with someone occasionally saying something stupid. Some people may find that exciting or worth their time, but it’s ability to impact the cause is limited.
Case in point, I remember sitting in the back of the ballroom in media row listening to four speakers last year. One was Glenn Beck, another was Candace Owens, a third was a conversation Ted Cruz had with National Review’s Rich Lowry, and the final one was a speech from Mike Pence. Without looking it up, I couldn’t tell you what any of them said, so it could not have been that important or compelling.
Some have come up with a possible remedy to this problem in the form of a rival summit in Washington entitled “Principles First.” This event claims to seek the rescue of conservatism from Trumpism. Unfortunately, they appear to have the exact opposite problem. Instead of turning the keys of conservatism over to MAGA Inc., they look to hand them over the Never Trump Inc., more than a few of which have indicated that they would actively vote for socialism over Trump.
The only people in the entire world who still care what Evan McMullin thinks about anything will be in that room. And he’s not the only one that list who fits that description. It is a list of people who upset that voters have rejected them.
One day, possibly by next year, Donald Trump will no longer be president and conservatism is in the midst of an identity crisis. Conservatives will have to tackle ideas without the emotions that Trump provokes. The great tragedy of these dueling conferences is that none of them appear willing to fix this.
A more productive CPAC would include debates such as the ones between David French and Sohrab Ahmari. It would include conversations about what a conservative foreign policy looks like in 2020; what a 2020 immigration system looks like; what actions, if any, conservatives should favor taking against giant tech companies.
It would include real conversations about the good and not-so-good aspects of Trump, rather than portraying him as either the greatest or worst thing to ever happen.
That would be a a job for serious thinkers, not Sebastian Gorka and Rick Wilson.
It would make CPAC more academic, which might be a risk to attendance records, but for those who care about ideas, it would be worth it.