What Really Happened at CPAC

By Bryan Griffin   March 5, 2021

No, conference goers didn’t gather to spread conspiracy theories.  No, they didn’t bow down to a golden statue of Trump.  And no, the stage wasn’t designed to pay homage to Nazi symbology.

Fascism, a form of big government, is hated among conservatives.

Outsiders in the mainstream media really piled on the hate.

“There will be no policy debates,” claimed an MSNBC opinion columnist.  That’s false.

The truth, it seems, was of no value in reporting on this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Among speeches from high-profile Republicans were dozens of panels and debates on a broad spectrum of policy issues — which was the purpose of the gathering.  Conference-goers are entertained by the stars and informed by the discussion.

These panels presented problems facing society and discussed a broad pool of options from which to draw solutions, including the market; public-private partnerships; individuals; the community; the federal system; and, in limited capacities, the federal government.

Perhaps this explains why there isn’t a CPAC equivalent on the left.  Their only solution is more government.

Gathering to discuss and debate a broad range of sources for solutions to the problems that face society is what America needs right now.  If COVID taught us anything, it is that government alone can’t be the answer.  It’s a healthy practice in politics to discuss and reach wide for answers — one that should be encouraged if critics are really worried that their political opponents are susceptible to any single “big lie.”

No one at CPAC, including myself, agreed with everything that was said.

The conference even featured panels designed specifically to encourage self-criticism.  “Tough Love: An Assessment of the Republican Party” was hosted on Sunday.

In fact, the conference featured little uniformity of thought.  There was broad agreement on the goals: to limit government and preserve the tenets of the American Constitution.  But the policy recommendations varied.  Speakers held any number of positions on major issues like health care; tech company monopolies; foreign policy; the environment; and yes, even election integrity.

On that subject, speakers varied on the pervasiveness of fraud in the last election — and the solutions to address it.  There was at least some level of fraud in the last election.  Even the mainstream media have had to change their tune from “no fraud” to “not enough fraud to change the election outcome.”  At least, the honest outlets have done so.

The question worth asking is and was, “What can be done to ensure to minimize election fraud in future elections?”  Whatever the critics may say about this exercise, they want the same thing if they care at all about the institutions of our democracy.

In another blatant untruth, critics reported that the goal of CPAC-led election integrity discussions was “voter restriction.”  Here again, the critics are insultingly dishonest to their news-consumers.  Every CPAC speaker reiterated a desire for all eligible votes cast to be counted.  Preventing fraudulent votes from being cast and counted does not equate to a restriction of voters — in fact, to the contrary, fraud does.

Six panels at CPAC focused specifically on policy prescriptions for more election security.

“There are conspiracy theories out there that are not worth chasing.  But there is conversation to be had about what we know.  [Let’s] talk about that,” prompted the moderator of one of those panels.

“One piece of advice for everyone in the audience … you always research a car before you buy it.  When someone comes to you and says I have the grand solution for election fraud … kick the tires,” said another panelist.

“If we can separate the exaggerations from the reality, we can have a much cleaner election system in 2022 that we can be confident and proud of,” the panel concluded.

Companies in the exhibit hall even offered products designed to offer more secure systems to manage and track election results.  One suggested securing digital election data with blockchain.  This same system also featured the ability for each voter to verify from his computer or smartphone that his designated vote was counted for the candidate he indeed had chosen in the ballot box.

There was also extensive discussion about the preservation of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights.  Each of the first ten amendments had its own panel discussion.

Among these panels was a focus on criminal justice reform, a policy point that conservatives now seek to own in the wake of the 2018 First Step Act.

And of course, defending free speech and the average American from the growing cronyism between Big Tech corporations and the state was a point of concern in most of the discussion.

In fact, “corporatism” was raked over the coals at CPAC.  The fresh bruises and scars from January’s mass-conservative crackdown by giant social media companies have redoubled the efforts to keep the free market free.  Big Tech companies who own large majorities of public square are as much a threat to the liberties of Americans as Big Government itself.  And one begets the other.

This year’s CPAC was also one of the most diverse in the conference’s history.  Black conservative thought leaders led and populated numerous panels.  They made the case that conservative policies achieve better results for the Black community and struck a defiant tone against their political critics.

Black advocate and business-owner T.W. Shannon, the CEO of Chicksaw Community Bank in Oklahoma, proclaimed, “They [leftists] don’t want you to have your own ideas, but if you don’t toe the line exactly, saying what they want you to say, think what they want you to think, you are canceled.  That’s what it’s about.  Every single one of us as a Black conservative can really speak to it.”

“If we stand by Republican values and conservative principles in our daily interactions with people, the results will take care of themselves,” agreed another panel of Black conservative thought leaders.

There was a noticeably strong presence of Asian voices among the panelists, particularly Koreans.  They made the case that conservative policies and American values are empowering the work they are doing to promote democracy and freedom in Asia.

In fact, there’s a growing international appeal for conservative values abroad.  KCPAC, the Korean CPAC, launched last year.  Starting soon, there will be CPACs held annually in Australia and Japan, with future prospects in India.

Drawing on experiences from their own history and neighboring China, Japanese and Korean speakers warned of the dangers of the racism, inequality, and oppression that Big Government breeds.

The conference wrapped up with a speech from the former president himself, who remains a popular figure among the conference-goers for his ability to buck the critics and speak against the narrative.

The truth about CPAC is that it gathered a diverse audience of conservatives to agree, disagree, and debate their policy positions.

At a moment in history when conservatism is being painted with untruths and then prevented from responding, it was all the more critical that CPAC happened.

Day two, on the main stage, former Democratic representative Vernon Jones of Georgia summed it all up: “Republicans are going to have to start taking the lead on a lot of issues that were created by Democrats.”  The line was met with thunderous applause.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.