I spent some time last week at the national Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held in National Harbor just outside of Washington, D.C.
The conference gets bigger and bigger each year. There had to be well over 10,000 people attending this year’s event. In fact, every hotel room in National Harbor was taken, let alone the many who could simply drive in for the day from the region, and no wonder, considering the line-up included at various times the president, vice president, secretary of state, several members of the Trump family, numerous senior government officials including the national security advisor, media personalities and conservative commentators, well-known foreign leaders like Nigel Farage, and those representing important positions on social issues such as right-to-life, law enforcement and Second Amendment rights, to name a few.
Candice Owens’ presentation was so well-received that the packed ballroom gave her numerous standing ovations.
In addition to the speakers who presented in the main ballroom that included bleachers to accommodate over 4,000 guests, there were dozens of breakout sessions in smaller rooms covering more narrow topics.
Media was in abundance. Outside the main ballroom were literally dozens of TV and radio outlets doing live interviews. I was fortunate to be given an opportunity to do a few. Inside the ballroom, there was a TV platform and a press section that was set up for over 200 outlets.
The CPAC was a creation in 1974 of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and, at that time, the newly-founded American Conservative Union (ACU). As such, it attracted many college students and young professionals interested in conservative economic and social philosophy.
Back then, the conferences were held at the Shoreham Americana Hotel off Rock Creek Park in D.C. In the first few years, attendance barely reached 300. Then, in 1979, with Ronald Reagan’s second attempt at winning the Republican nomination and his attendance once again as a speaker, the event blossomed.
President Reagan — as a conservative leader, candidate for president, president and then former president — spoke at 14 CPACs. President Trump as a candidate and now as president has spoken at four so far. He is well received, with the event at many points seeming more like a Trump/Pence re-election rally.
In those years, I was active with Young Americans for Freedom, eventually being elected to the national board in 1981, so CPAC was part of my annual routine. In some ways, my attendance these days is a bit like a class reunion, with me running into people I have known literally for decades.
One thing that has not changed is the magnetism CPAC provides to young people, notably college students. I am told that a majority of the crowd is under 25 years of age. It certainly looks that way as you move through crowded corridors into a full ballroom or breakout session.
Several years back, as part of the American Conservative Union’s interest in focusing on young rising stars in the national conservative movement, the group asked Nicole Malliotakis to take the center stage, addressing thousands in the room and many others who watched on CSPAN.
ACU saw Nicole’s potential way back when she was in her second term in the legislature, believing then that she would one day be seeking higher office.
If you are interested in the philosophy and/or hands-on application of conservativism in a political environment, I recommend that you follow the American Conservative Union and the Young America’s Foundation for CPAC updates. I suspect attending next year’s event, always held in late February or early March, will be worth your time.