“President Paul! President Paul!” the crowds roared as Sen. Rand Paul took the stage at the 50th annual Conservative Political Action Conference on the afternoon of March 7. Paul, a favorite of many students for the presidential nomination in 2016, was one of the many speakers students saw at CPAC 2014.
Approximately 50 Hillsdale students attended the conference, which was held March 6 to 8 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center near Washington, D.C.
“I’ve enjoyed hearing all the speakers and being in this super hyperconservative environment,” freshman Sydnee Heim said.
Three days before spring break began, students boarded a bus provided by the Michigan GOP and drove through the night to reach Washington. After a quick change of clothes at their hotel in Dupont Circle, they hurried to the Gaylord to hear from speakers like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, businessman Donald Trump, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
“Rand Paul was probably my favorite speaker,” said College Republicans President sophomore Sam Holdeman, who helped organize the CPAC trip. “I was really disappointed with Sen. Marco
Rubio — I thought he would give a much better speech than he did. Donald Trump was fine as well.”
In addition to speakers and breakout sessions, CPAC featured an exhibition room full of representatives from hundreds of conservative media outlets, think tanks, and policy organizations.
“CPAC gave me the opportunity to catch up with old friends in the conservative movement, along with making new friends,” said junior Nathan Brand, president of Young Americans for Freedom and another trip coordinator. “I also got the chance to meet Bret Baier and Greta Van Susteren from Fox News and Sarah Palin.”
On Friday afternoon, Michigan Americans for Prosperity held a phonebanking marathon in a suite at the Gaylord. Students made calls to Michiganders regarding an upcoming local tax hike. Americans for Prosperity also provided lunch to Hillsdale attendees.
In the evenings, students were free to explore the city, or attend various functions held by conservative groups during CPAC weekend.
On Friday night, the students attended a dinner at the Kirby Center and visited friends currently participating in the Washington – Hillsdale Internship Program.
A contingent of students attended a dinner hosted by YAF at the Westin Hotel. The dinner featured an address by Kate Obenshain, the first woman chair of the Virginia GOP and a regular contributor on Fox News.
“Kate Obenshain was terrific,” Brand said. “I talked with a few other Hillsdale students after the event, and we started passing around the idea of having her come speak on campus about women in politics.”
Attendees also got a taste for potential contenders in the 2016 presidential election.
“I’m really liking Bobby Jindal — I was really impressed with his speech,” Heim said. “But I also have a soft spot in my heart for Ted Cruz.”
On Saturday night, the Michigan Republican Party held a reception for College Republicans, after which the bus departed for Hillsdale.
“People don’t realize how much work goes into everything behind the scenes, but it’s been a blast,” Holdeman said. “It’s been great. I’m happy it’s over, but it’s been so much fun getting everybody out here. Things have gone really well.”