Friday morning, 7:13 a.m., the doors opened at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, in National Harbor, MD, where attendees raced into the Potomac Ballroom for spaces closest to the main stage. Some had been waiting in line since as early as 5:30 a.m. to see President Donald J. Trump address conservatives for the first time as President.
One year prior, all Republican presidential candidates attended CPAC 2016 — with the exception of Trump — who cancelled his appearance just days before, announcing via Twitter that he would attend a rally in Kansas and Florida to advance his political campaign instead.
CPAC 2016 attendee William Temple from Georgia had planned to lead a walkout during Trump’s scheduled appearance, National Review reported — a dramatic contrast with the warm welcome Trump received this year.
Despite the apparent dislike of Trump by many conservatives attending CPAC 2016, attendees were not pleased with Mr. Trump’s decision to cancel his conference appearance. In response, Ben Sasse tweeted: “PREDICTION: not the last time @realdonaldtrump will abandon conservatives”.
In an official statement regarding his 2016 cancellation, Trump’s representative said, “Mr. Trump would like to thank [American Conservative Union Chairman] Matt Schlapp and all of the executives at CPAC and looks forward to returning next year, hopefully as President of the United States.”
Trump’s wish came true: the President affectionately said, “I love this place, I love you people,” to the crowd standing, cheering, and clapping in jubilation.
So has the conservative movement changed, or has Trump proven himself a conservative?
With Trump’s victory of the White House, conservatives seem to have abandoned their principles that moved them to disapprove of Trump just months prior.
Each year, CPAC conducts a straw poll of attendants, asking a variety of different questions, gauging the crowd on various political preferences. This year’s results showed that 47 percent of attendees believed that things in the United States had gotten off track, but 86 percent responded that they approve of the job that Donald Trump is doing as president.
In 2016, Donald J. Trump received 15 percent of the straw poll votes for first choice of presidential candidate, then receiving 9 percent for second choice presidential candidate. This shows that less than 25 percent of conservatives at CPAC 2016 considered Donald Trump as a first or second choice candidate. Surprisingly, the 2017 CPAC straw poll results stated that 80 percent in attendance agree that Donald Trump is realigning the conservative movement.
Back in 2016, CPAC attendees had the opportunity to listen to presidential candidate after presidential candidate beg for their vote as each fought for the claim to be the more conservative candidate.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, spoke to CPAC 2016 and said, “I want to offer you some enthusiasm and optimism today and tell you no matter what is happening there, the conservative movement is alive and well in states throughout America”.
But it isn’t. The conservative movement has lost its ground and is blending toward a mainstream Republican party approach.
President Trump addressed his absence from CPAC 2016 in his speech this year.
“I would have come last year, but I was worried that I would be at that time too controversial,” he said. “We wanted border security, we wanted very very strong military. We wanted all the things that we are going to get but some people considered it controversial. But you didn’t think it was controversial.”
But the conservative movement is no longer the same. CPAC 2017 was a party for those celebrating the electoral college, rejoicing in the Donald Trump presidency, and not for the “Ronald Reagan Conservatives” who may have attended the year before.
Ms. Von Dohlen is a sophomore studying American Studies and journalism.