Has CPAC Been Taken Back by Authoritarians?
The tone was set at CPAC in Washington, DC early Saturday morning when the doors opened to the conference hall at the Gaylord Convention Center. Significant and unique from prior years was the overwhelming presence of the Secret Service at the entrances to the main ballroom.
The line to the front door snaked around the hotel lobby, stretching hundreds of attendees long. Several guests were taken aside after going through the mandatory metal detectors and subjected to frisks. In many ways, this was all emblematic of a 2016 conference which was the first since 2006 to not feature either Ron Paul or Rand Paul as a speaker.
Notably, these two men combined for five CPAC straw poll wins over the last six conferences. However, given the tone and audience of this year’s convention, it is not overly bold to say that the Pauls would have a harder time gaining traction in 2016.
The morning speakers encapsulated the sentiments perfectly. There was first a point/counterpoint session on immigration featuring first a reasoned speech by Kate Bryan of Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. Bryan pointed out that the country was a nation of immigrants and closely chose her words. However, she was followed by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who used language akin to Donald Trump‘s in suggesting that many of the immigrants to the US are nothing more than drug mules for cartels, and that it would be more compassionate to turn these people away.
This portion was followed by Fox News Contributor KT McFarland, who recited many Republican talking points, like decrying the shrinking of the military by President Obama. However, the most eventful speech came from radio host Mark Levin, who spent an overwhelming majority of his speech praising President Ronald Reagan.
He was not the first of the speakers to mention Reagan, but Levin certainly spent the most time of any presenter describing Reagan’s record in bringing conservatism to the forefront of American politics in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. As per usual, Levin compared Reagan to Obama, pointing out the success of the 1980s recovery as opposed to the modern one.
Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, Levin made an appeal to the activists in the hall to coalesce around a conservative to carry the banner of the Republican Party into the 2016 election. Ironically, the case could be made that it is possible that many of the vague and aggressive solutions of Trump’s which appeal to voters are the direct cause of past rhetoric like Levin’s.
Most frightening for libertarians throughout the day (in addition to the police-state style security) was the constant regurgitation of misleading “facts” and statistics by so many of the featured conservatives. More specifically, the refrain that Obama “apologizes” for America and that the military has been “decimated” have continued, even though the realities do not support this point.
The fear-mongering on the topic of radical Islam, in conjunction with the same demagoguery of immigrants appears to be swirling together to reform the coalitions that have embodied the Republican Party for decades (and have led them to landslide electoral defeats).
While many have seen the prevalence of libertarian policies increase at CPAC in recent years (and at this conference, there is still a presence for groups like Young Americans for Liberty, Cato Institute and Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty), it does appear that the election year, in addition to the withdrawal of Rand Paul as a presidential candidate, has revealed the conservative movement for what it still truly is.
Undoubtedly, there is still hope for libertarianism within conservative politics. However, CPAC 2016 is a sobering moment for the liberty movement, and furthermore a wake-up call for those who wish to merely rest on the laurels of the few successes which libertarians have already accomplished.