Politics & Policy

CPAC: It’s Not a Circus!

The annual conference showcases the range of the conservative movement, for better or worse.

Despite what you might have heard, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference is not a circus.

Sure, it puts about 10,000 conservatives under one roof of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center and seems to grow larger every year. Sure, the attendees represent a wide-ranging mix of clashing political forces — networking political professionals, earnest grassroots activists, big-name presidential candidates, lesser-known aspiring candidates for other offices, eager College Republicans, tchotchke vendors of varying tastes, gadflies and hangers-on, and of course media reporters of every stripe, all looking for a story no one else has written yet.

But it’s not a circus!

Sure, there’s always at least one guy in full Tea Party revolutionary regalia. Sure, stilt walkers of “Ronald Reagan” and “Lady Liberty” walk around the floor. And yes, stilt walkers are more or less the kind of entertainment you expect to find at the circus.

Former John McCain strategist and MSNBC contributor Steve Schmidt took some heat in 2013 when he declared CPAC was “the Star Wars bar scene of the conservative movement.”

It seemed like a hyperbolic sneer . . . until last year’s conference featured Imperial stormtroopers, Boba Fett, and other Star Wars characters walking around.

But it’s not a circus!

Yes, this year, one of the prominently featured speakers is mogul, reality-television star, and perennial alleged potential presidential candidate Donald Trump. And Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty is getting the Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment Award.

Sure, the opening-night party is sponsored by the Poker Players Alliance.

Sure, eight aspiring journalism students will interview former senator Rick Santorum and former representative Dennis Kucinich to win an internship at the Washington Times. If you’ve ever characterized entering the journalism profession as a reality-show competition, you weren’t exaggerating. You were just ahead of the curve.

Sure, there’s a presentation from the American Petroleum Institute entitled “Frack That!”

Sure, attendees can see presentations from Phyllis Schlafly and the controversy-courting Los Angeles street poster artist Sabo in the same day, and hopefully not get whiplash from the change in personal styles.

At 8:30 a.m. on Friday, nationally syndicated radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham, vehement opponent of amnesty for illegal immigrants and all legislative efforts to create a path to citizenship — which she considers de facto amnesty — addresses the attendees. At 8:40 a.m., she is followed by . . . Senator Marco Rubio, member of the “Gang of Eight” and sponsor of the Senate immigration bill. Undoubtedly, she’ll give him a warm introduction.

At 11 a.m. Friday, there will be a “meet and greet” session with Trump, a famous germophobe. It will be fascinating to watch whether Trump continues his reluctant willingness to shake hands with strangers.

Sure, several times a day, CPAC attendees will see two political professionals have exchanges like this . . . 

Political Guy One: Hey, buddy, long time no see!

Political Guy Two: Man, how long has it been?

Political Guy One: Too long, too long! What’re ya doing these days?

Political Guy Two: Keepin’ busy! I’m slammed these days! You know how these cycles work!

Political Guy One: Aw, tell me about it! I’m working on, the, you know –

Political Guy Two: Yeah, yeah, I heard about that, sounds great! Listen, I’ve got to run for this thing –

Political Guy One: Yeah, I was supposed to jump on a call, but there’s awful reception down here –

Political Guy Two: We need to do lunch!

Political Guy One: Definitely! Call me. You have my number, right?

Political Guy Two: E-mail me!

Political Guy One: Text me!

Political Guy Two: Gchat me!

Political Guy One: Instagram me!

 . . . and you’ll realize that neither guy remembers the other’s name, where he knows the other one from, or where he works now.

Okay, maybe CPAC is a little bit of a circus. Considering the breadth and depth of the Americans who make up the conservative movement, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.

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