Last week I made the annual trek to Washington, D.C., to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
For those unfamiliar with it, CPAC is the largest yearly meeting of conservative political activists. We come from all across the country. It’s four days jam-packed with speeches, boot camps, networking and breakout sessions all held within a fun party atmosphere.
I know, I know, we conservatives have a reputation for being, well, conservative, but trust me, we can party with the best of them.
CPAC is the main time each year that the grassroots activists get to meet and mingle with the celebrity activists in the conservative movement. It’s usually highly attended by college-age volunteers new to the political scene, grassroots activists, media personalities, authors, politicians and the like from across the Republican and Libertarian spectrum.
While this was far from the first time I’d been there, it was the first time I had attended the CPAC with a Republican in the White House.
After eight torturous years of the Obama administration, you’d expect this year’s CPAC vibe would be one of excitement and celebration in anticipation of what the next four years will bring. After all, our side finally — finally! — has a Republican-held White House, a Republican-controlled Congress, and numerous Republican governorships.
But you’d be wrong – about the celebration and anticipation part.
Although the organization that runs CPAC, The American Conservative Union (ACU), has yet to release the official attendance figures, I won’t be a bit surprised to learn the numbers are down from years past.
Now granted, it’s not an election year, which means – as expected – most of the hardcore, seasoned activists stayed home. But as an attendee on Media Row, I sometimes felt there were more media than general attendees.
Gone were the Rand Paul-type hoards stuffing the Straw Poll for their guy. Gone, too, were long lines at security.
This year, the vibe was decidedly different. “Low-key,” “subdued” and “quiet” are just a few of the ways I heard other veteran attendees describe it.
CPAC itself was the same well-run and energetic event it always is. The difference this year was in the attendees themselves.
Missing in large numbers were the conservative Tea Party-type activists: the average American citizens who, fed up with the status quo, were engaged in the political process for the first time.
Why is that? Why would the most conservative of the party stay home from the biggest annual gathering of conservatives? The answer lies in President Trump himself.
There’s a certain amount of wariness left over from the recent contentious presidential race. Many conservatives are taking a wait-and-see approach to the new POTUS and his administration. Yes, our side won, I get that, but the wounds are still fresh.
And as President Trump basks in the success of his first speech to Congress, he’d do well to take note of conservatives’ wariness toward him because, in truth, he’s the one who created it.
It was his own frenetic and coarse no-holds-barred style of campaigning that created the wariness and, indeed, the anti-Trumpers on our side. Throughout the race, then-candidate Trump insulted and dismissed conservatives.
Since now-President Trump has yet to apologize for, or at least acknowledge, the wounds those insults and dismissals caused, many are finding it difficult to forget or even trust him. These wounds are the reason several people I know gave for not attending CPAC this year and for the wariness they still hold.
Even as our new POTUS promises to implement much of what they want, conservatives do not trust him. Frankly, after eight years of being disrespected by the left, the last thing they wanted or expected was to be treated that way by our own side.
Trump needs to address this wariness soon and bring conservatives into the fold. It’s time.
Simply saying “We won; get over it” won’t do it. That kind of dismissiveness smacks of the left, and no actual conservative believes being like the left is a recipe for winning.
If CPAC, conservatives, and the president want to continue winning, they must address this wariness. Otherwise, I fear CPAC attendance will be a portent of bad things to come for the Republicans for the upcoming 2018 midterm election as conservatives and anti-Trumpers stay home.
And just as in years past, Republicans absolutely cannot afford to lose in 2018 after all it took to win this last one.