Your humble blogger started going to CPAC back in 2007 (or maybe 2008?) and has attended every CPAC since. Both in 2008 and 2015 I ran exhibit hall booths, which limited or changed my perception of what went on at CPAC.
My early CPAC attendance was due to my participation in a local DC metro Ron Paul meetup. Mitt Romney dropped out of the Republican primaries the day before that CPAC, and the young woman who had spent a huge amount of time organizing volunteers and supplies for his booth was very angry with him. And Ron Paul was her second choice. So she told us to take over the booth, which we did with less than 24 hours notice (Ron Paul had, amazingly, not secured one — he was a CPAC virgin only 8 years ago).
I showed up with the only thing I had, a small business card sized brochure I was distributing for Ron Paul door to door in Maryland, and a reason magazine with Ron Paul on the cover as my only graphic for the wall behind me. By the end of the day a full booth of volunteers had showed up and they had brought more than enough flyers, buttons, bumper stickers etc. (A comely 22 year old man/boy asked me for that copy of reason, and when I told him I had subscribed to it since I was younger than he, and that only a few years earlier it had been a mimeographed zine, he cocked his pretty head quizzically at the word mimeograph.) The then libertarianizing George F. Will strolled near our booth and I was able to hop out and thank him for his recent column praising Ron Paul.
CPAC has now moved out of DC, to the Gaylord National Resort on the Potomac River in Oxon Hill, Maryland. (Allegedly it outgrew the DC hotel, but the straw poll vote remains in the 3000s, down a little from its peak the last year it was in DC. Behind the scenes people say it moved because SEIU union ‘crats were paying homeless people to hold protest signs in DC (Andrew Breitbart famously went out to confront them at his last CPAC before he passed away), but the leftover groups now can’t figure out how to transport paid protesters out to the Gaylord, where there is no subway stop.)
Back in 2008, when we did not know Rand Paul would ever run for office, Ron Paul traveled about the Wardman Marriott hotel (back in DC, where CPAC used to be, and where the International Students for Liberty Conference is now) with an entourage of Governor Gary Johnson, Judge Andrew Napolitano and constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein. This year there was a little friction between the Rand Paul and Gary Johnson peeps, as Johnson said Paul is not a libertarian and the Libertarian Party posted an anti-Rand graphic (below).
Since then I’ve covered CPAC – what the gays were up to, what Ann Coulter said, who won the straw poll, what the libertarians did – in my old tea party blog (which I actually started originally to cover the divisions at CPAC).
This year I was in charge of staffing a booth for Gary Johnson’s Our America Initiative, so my experience of most of CPAC 2015 consisted of running the booth and watching the actual speeches on Fox and YouTube. (CPAC 2015 also created an app you can download, which would allow you to follow what was going on in multiple panels, happy hours, receptions, workshops and parties.) Though I did talk individually with hundreds of attendees and made it to four parties (those of the Republican Liberty Caucus, where Julie Borowski and Governor Johnson spoke, the Leadership Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Rand Paul’s Young Americans for Liberty event, where Rand Paul took photos with supporters, though a third walked out when Ted Cruz spoke).
At the booth I got mainly three responses: people coming up to tell us they were libertarians (including young people who said they voted for Romney but since became libertarians and wish they had voted for Johnson), a few people critical of libertarians, and libertarians from Rand Paul’s booth coming over to give me static over the so very well timed meme posted on the Libertarian Party facebook page (and produced by the gay group Outright Libertarians), comparing Rand Paul to Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.
No one had much interest in the particular items Our America had wanted us to push, about the law suit Gov. Johnson has against the presidential debate commission (I killed a tree for nothing), though LP News, Gary Johnson books and buttons, and libertarian bumper stickers were popular. The Libertarian Party itself has not had a booth at CPAC since 2011 (see video h/t Wes Benedict). (At my first CPAC the LP booth was organized by a not fully ripened Austin Petersen, a lowly intern in the Libertarian National Committee office.)
Gary got his main publicity for faking a heart attack when debating a former, one term, Congresswoman, who said 1 in 5 pot smokers are more likely to have a heart attack from using pot. (I wonder: Are 1 in 5 people, those with the worst cardiac health, more likely to have a heart attack from drinking coffee, eating sweets, having sex. or walking up stairs?)
But there was other fun to be had. reason magazine created a Grindr account to interview the gays, whose organizations (Log Cabin and GOProud) were forbidden from being sponsors – though American Atheists did sponsor CPAC – and Log Cabin director Gregory Angelo was on a panel on (gays in) Putin’s Russia.
The coverage of CPAC by conservatives typically emphasizes how “unfair” and unrepresentative it is when Rand (or Ron) Paul win the straw poll, given that many of their voters have no money and crashed in cheap hotel rooms 4 and 6 to a room and paid only $25 for a student ticket, unlike the more representative Jeb Bush or Scott Walker voters, who are older and rented a $400 a night hotel room for 3 or 4 nights and bought a platinum level $800 CPAC ticket that gets them into fancy dinners. (Sponsors who have booths also tip the voting in that booth volunteer passes are also voting credentials. I am pretty sure the Our America Initiative booth created 6 votes for Rand Paul.) There is a big age divide between Rand (or Ron) Paul fans and those of the other candidates, and the Rand people are willing to walk out, boo, etc. the other politicians.
CPAC has lots of pricey or exclusive parties. You can buy a VIP pass that gets you into everything; I bought one in 2011 and was constantly shocking the young door keepers at the more silk stocking events, when I would show up in jeans, under 60 years old, plastered with Ron Paul and libertarian buttons, looking like someone they were sure did not belong in the front row or the annual Reagan Dinner ($450 a la carte without the VIP pass). (I used my old VIP lanyard this year with my booth pass and the CPAC 2015 staffers kept thanking me and giving me a thumbs up.) Other exclusive events include the annual Breitbart party on Capitol Hill (I was invited once, it’s Breitbart and other bloggers, minor Fox News contributors, and anyone they thought was pretty) and Reaganpalooza, the annual party for young conservatives and conservatarians. Rand Paul supporters and other libertarians have their own after party at a DC metro area libertarian group house, the Casa de Liberte, which isn’t strictly invite-only but does require a cover charge and ideological litmus test.
Most of what I think is interesting about CPAC this year is the tension between the Rand Paul and the LP libertarians, so I’m just going to end with quotes from around the net this week, some occasioned by the Outright meme, along with photos of people and swag from the exhibit hall (I will be adding comments and photos all week, so check back later):
Bruce P. Majors
It’s sloppy and wrong. You can criticize Rand Paul for not being libertarian enough or Ron Paul for not being your kind of libertarian without saying they are like the Clintons. The posters on the LP page completely rip them for this idiocy. Someone keeps deleting my comments there.
I’d say he’s about 70% libertarian, versus RP’s 95% libertarian. He certainly isn’t less “anti-immigration” – something that RP in recent years has totally de-emphasized and Rand sends me emails daily protesting about (Obama’s “amnesty”). To give one illustration – Rand thought Snowden should’ve gone the “legal route” while Ron declared him to be a hero. That’s a huge litmus test right there. Rand is much more soft-spoken about the USG involvement abroad, where Ron just straightforwardly says it’s bullshit….
All that said, I like Rand a lot compared to anyone else out there.
It’s a false flag operation. Actually, the “libertarian party” has been infiltrated by the far left, I saw it first hand during a recent stint in NYC.
I saw the post as the three biggest liers in the upcomeing race and all will hurt our freedoms.
[In response to the claim that Rand Paul is not libertarian] Neither was Gary Johnson…until he failed to get any traction in Republican primaries in 2011.
…I think they’ve both been good gateway drugs, but that can go either way… I mean I’ve talked to people who’ve gone on a journey from either Paul to more radical libertarianism, but I’ve also talked to those who merely reinforced their basically conservative views, just with a wee less mainstream corporatist stance. That probably there are more of the former is either due to a sampling error (on my part) or the tone of our times (where I believe more newbies are more likely to not embrace conservatism).
The former Governor of Florida is part of a famous Republican political family. The former Secretary of State is part of a famous Democratic political family. The junior Senator from Kentucky is part of a famous Republican political family.
I got their point. Rand inherited power from his father, and his father was a congressman from Texas whose high water mark was chairing a subcommittee after a few decades in office. But okay, I guess that’s just like having your dad be president
By the way thanks to booth volunteers Juanita Billings, Seth Ryan Levy, Connie Harrigan Frank, Virginia state senate candidate Carl Loser, J. Todd Martinson, former Virginia Congressional candidate Jeffrey Carson, Ashley Edwards, David Valente, Diana Castillo, Kirby Myers, Libertarian National Committee vice chair Arvin Vohra, Arvin’s friend whose name I don’t know, Jason Amatuci, and Charles Peralo. And to booth cheerleaders/lunch partners Chenelyn Barker and Krista Kirlew.