2016 was a rough year for many interested in politics. An emotional rollercoaster, filled with soaring heights, breathtaking twists, turns and more than one surprise heart stopping flips for those with right of center values. CPAC, the annual convention put on by the American Conservative Union was where these people can go to recharge. This was my third year at the convention, I’ve made it a tradition to write about my personal experience at each event.
For me CPAC has always been more about the people than the speeches. It’s an opportunity to socialize with people that we talk to nearly every day via social media. Friends, followers, colleagues and readers all under one roof. There really is nothing quite like it.
In 2015, my first year at CPAC, I was amazed at the size and scope. It was a trip full of surprises, I was able to meet some of my social media friends for the first time.
From the moment I arrived I was welcome with open arms (and an occasional tackle) by friends that I felt like I had known for years, even though it was the first time we had ever met in person. Realizing I actually talk to most of these Peeps every day on Twitter. It was a bizarro world family reunion with people You actually like. Hugs and Kisses…”So good to meet you”… then right into what we were talking about yesterday. The drinks were flowing and all of my fears melted away.
It seemed appropriate my podcast partner, Jim Geraghty had convinced me to make the trip to National Harbor. He was awarded “Journalist of the Year” at the Reagan Dinner that year and because of his prodding to attend, I was able to be in the audience cheering him on. At the time I called it “The Best CPAC Ever”.
In 2016, the mood was different. We were in the midst of the GOP Primary battles. People were choosing sides. The rivalries between camps was evident throughout the hall of the Gaylord Convention Center. The specter of Donald Trump looming, the desire to find the “right” candidate to oppose Hillary Clinton.
2016 may go down as the year where I was wrong about everything, specifically as it relates to Donald J. Trump….
Yes, people talked about Trump, but none of it was overtly positive, so that was refreshing to say the least. There were rumors of a planned Anti-Trump Protest before he pulled out at the last minute. Reports are that his supporters complained about these mysterious Orange Ribbons that people were wearing. Ribbons that were a silent protest of sorts, meaning one thing, #NeverTrump. I’ll admit.. I was part of the “Orange Ribbon Rebellion” of 2016.
While we’re on the subject of just how wrong I was about most things in 2016, I also dismissed the reports of infighting between Republicans as merely politics as usual, nothing to worry about. Granted at that time I was struggling privately to come up with reasons to stay active in the conservative movement. I’m still disappointed that I didn’t recognize how divided we were becoming and how it could lead to more infighting down the road as the election progressed. I just don’t think I ever imagined how personal the Presidential election would become to so many people.
When I arrived at CPAC this year, even the weather was in a good mood. For the first time in three years, unseasonably warm temperatures welcomed us to Little Vegas on the Potomac. A pleasant harbinger of things to come the sun was finally out at CPAC. I wasn’t naive going in this year, of course I expected there to be some encounters that would be uncomfortable, some exchanges that could get heated and ultimately I knew there were some fences that may never be mended. I was also hopeful that there could be some healing, as people from opposing factions were brought together. Me, the eternal optimist, I guess.
Winning cures a lot of ills, that adage was well represented at CPAC this year. The marble halls were filled with thousands of smiling, happy people. Some of them may have even been a little bit shiny. From the 70 year old grandma covered in political badges, to the greying gentleman in the black business suit, to the 22 year old College Republican in the elephant print mini skirt, to the middle aged man in jeans, they all donned the notorious Red Hat which proclaimed their desire to “Make America Great Again”.
Sure there were plenty of people who are less than supportive of the new President, but most were just thrilled that Hillary Clinton didn’t win. Trump for all his faults has given us a conservative cabinet, has nominated Neil Gorsuch, a true originalist for the Supreme Court and he’s already started the process to repeal Obamacare. “It’s early” was the tempering statement given by many, as they expressed their approval of Trump’s decisions thus far. In short, Donald Trump makes people happy.
— Mickey White (@BiasedGirl) February 24, 2017
When he spoke on Friday morning, the crowd cheered wildly, and Trump really seemed to enjoy the intimate setting with his supporters. They both delighted in booing the media in the standing room only ballroom. Roars of laughter as the President repurposed lines from his campaign speeches for the crowd. While Mike Pence’s style is very different from Donald Trump, the Vice President delivered a rousing speech to a receptive audience on Thursday. Pence feels like the first of many gifts to conservatives from the Trump Administration.
I can count on one hand the number of times there was tension in the midst over intraparty squabbles. It just wasn’t a problem. I saw people making a real effort to rebuild the bridges that were badly damaged during the last election cycle. That was a theme you could see at a panel discussion or during happy hour conversations, now was not a time to rehash the fights of the previous year, instead we should learn what we can from it and move on.
Aside from an interruption by Secret Service on Thursday afternoon, CPAC ran like a well oiled machine. Producing the top conservative speakers in the country on the main stage. Once again the break out panels that were offered, featured various viewpoints and discussion on literally any issue you can imagine. Media Row continues to expand to include more outlets, an exciting development for the future of conservative media.
— Mickey White (@BiasedGirl) February 23, 2017
The spectacle part of CPAC is something I enjoy as much as anything else. I might be alone in my love of the guy who dressed up like a Revolutionary General, this bothers me not. There’s a “Trump Truck” in the parking lot? Hold my drink, I need to see it. My kinda party. Seriously. You’ll hear people mock the over the top displays, as for me they’re just part of the fun.
— Mickey White (@BiasedGirl) February 23, 2017
In previous years, I’ve discussed a private dinner with friends at which I end the week. It’s been the place where I’ve gathered my thoughts, assessing that we’re all good people in this movement despite our differences… This year, my invitation was rescinded. 2016 was rough year for everyone. It happens. I took it as an opportunity to accept other invites, meet new people. I’m certain there is a lesson in there.
Overall, CPAC was a whirlwind of people, lights, cameras, conversations, drinks, food and fun. Freedom was celebrated in prayers and over cocktails. The fellowship with other conservatives has left me feeling rejuvenated. Even for someone like me, who is just beginning to come to terms with a President Trump, the impact of his win is an inspiration. I intend to hold Trump accountable throughout his term, having said that opposing his existence is foolish and exhausting. People are excited about the possibilities for the economy and the country. The enthusiasm is infectious. While I will probably never be a passenger on the “Trump Train”, I’m more than satisfied to enjoy the ride.
CPAC gave me a chance to recharge my political batteries, and an opportunity to reconnect with friends from all over the country. It’s an event I look forward to attending and one that I’m sad (if exhausted) when it’s over. It was just what I needed this year.