Full disclosure, I’ve been to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) before. Last year was my first year as an attendee. I live in the DC area, I admittedly love politics and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. This year I came wearing my media credentials–representing SOFREP– and with a whole new perspective.
For the last few years, CPAC has been held at the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center at National Harbor — just across the river from Washington, DC. It’s a stunning location on the waterfront and has become a favorite location for regular attendees.
The conference was founded in 1973 by the American Conservative Union and Young Americans for Freedom as a small gathering of dedicated conservatives. Ronald Reagan gave the inaugural keynote speech at CPAC in 1974- a speech that remain cherished in conservative circles. He would come back to CPAC again as President of the United States.
The first thing you notice when you walk into the Gaylord is the sea of GOP “uniforms”–khaki pants and button down shirt with a blazer and tie or a nice suit and tie, women in smart suits–and then those of us who will not be on camera in the press pool are a little more casual. I gave up my heels in the early morning because I was on the move way too much. You’ll also find college students and activists in suits or slogan t-shirts. And there are a LOT of college students here.
There are also a lot of Veterans. They are easy to find because there is a special Veteran ticket price and it’s right there on the badge. What was not easy to find on day one were many veterans issues on the agenda. But veterans are given a seat at any table they wish here at CPAC and are revered and respected by just about any attendee you ask.
In the morning I sat with the press pool while Vice President Mike Pence was on stage. He discussed North Korea and border security, school safety, and the various accomplishments of the Trump administration thus far, bringing the standing room only crowd to its feet.
In the late morning, I wandered down to what is known as the “hub” –a ballroom filled with various vendors, lobbying groups, activists groups, free popcorn, a conservative bookclub and hundreds of people at any given time stuffing their CPAC branded tote bag with swag and information. I did notice that any booths regarding the military or veteran’s issues was conspicuously absent.
The conservative book club did have a few titles authored by Vets but was pretty thin –in my highly biased opinion– on SOFREP authors. I have decided I will make it my personal mission to change that for 2019.
Foreign Policy Panels in the afternoon
After lunch it was back to the ballroom to listen to a panel discussion on the growing threat from China. Now, as a China hand, I was never going to miss that opportunity. A round robin of topics were covered from trade and mercantilism, to technology protection and military buildups.
The bottom line from the room was that thankfully China’s ambitions have been slowed because, as The Hoover Institution’s Michael Auslin put it “someone took care of fate – not giving china any natural resources of oil.” But he went on to say that the “prime directive for China is the survival of the CCCP – everything is driven by that – make the world safe for authoritarianism – if it means getting the US out of asia then that’s what it will do.”
Acclaimed China specialist and Daily Beast contributor, Gordon Chang, echoed that sentiment saying, “China wants to rule the world – they want to upend the law-based, rules-based international system – they are telling us they want a worldwide tribute system where everyone accepts their authority.”
There were simultaneous break out sessions on tensions in the Middle East but I have yet to clone myself so I couldn’t make it to both.
Quite possibly the most buzz you will find at CPAC is on Broadcast Row where you will find on air personalities from Sirius XM, CRTV, NRA TV, The Daily Caller and other conservative leaning outlets–broadcasting live and interviewing all the big names and those wishing to be in the conservative movement. All the traditional media networks are here too, but they can be found doing roving reports, live shots or up on the main media stage scaffold.
I found more Vets near broadcast row than just about anywhere else and that’s because, I am happy to report, that many of them are running for office. Stay tuned because I hope to bring you interviews with them in the coming weeks and months- to get to the bottom of what they believe and what they are offering should they be given a chance to serve America again in the political field of battle.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Tim Payne, a medically retired Staff Sergeant who served in the 82nd — who despite having lost both legs in Afghanistan — has gone on to compete in the Invictus Games and become an author, brand ambassador and inspiration for wounded veterans. I’m going to be reviewing his new book soon.
Issues In the Air
Given the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida the issue of guns and violence and what to do about both were heavy in the air. I’ll tackle that in more detail in my CPAC Diaries: Volume Two