I find Donald Trump intolerable. I have no commitment to the GOP. But though it is imperfect, the Republican Party is the most viable mechanism for good. Year after year, with that mindset, I have attended the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). In last week’s Collegian, Mr. Isaac Kirshner painted the conference as a three-day pep rally, consisting of nothing but speeches and relentless “person-worship” of our president and his supporters. If that’s true, how could a moderate like myself stomach CPAC, and even more, enjoy it?
The answer is simple: Skip the handful of speeches by Republican celebrities (President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and conservative pundit Ben Shapiro) and enjoy the conference without the “toxic person-worship” that Kirshner describes.
Rather than chanting “lock her up” during every interlude and swarming Ben Shapiro for a signature, I spent my time at CPAC connecting with the American Conservation Coalition, a conservative environmentalist group, and talking for hours with former police officer Dick Heller, the man responsible for securing 2nd amendment rights inside D.C.
As a college student, the conference is very much a “choose your own adventure” experience. CPAC is home to the booths of more than 100 organizations, a grassroots boot camp, a job fair, free headshots and resume consultation for students, meet-and-greet happy hours at nearby restaurants, and a constant shuttle to and from Union Station that allows attendees to explore our nation’s capital. With so many opportunities at hand, many students only attend a handful of the speeches scheduled throughout the day.
The tone of political discourse differs greatly from that at Hillsdale, but the annual trip is by no means a rejection of true conservatism, or an endorsement of the shallowness of 21st century politics. Furthermore, “person-worship” and “us vs. them” rhetoric are hardly unique to CPAC. For those who aspire to a career in government, the conference is an eye-opening experience and, I would argue, a necessary exposure to politics outside of Hillsdale College.
Giving 56 Hillsdale students access to the plethora of resources at CPAC not only benefits each individual, but also enables our members to shape the future of the conservative movement through engagement with other young Republicans — many of whom have never read the Founding Fathers or studied the history of conservatism. Ideological purism that calls for isolation is debilitating to our movement and alienating to our allies. Only by engaging can we be a force for good in Washington, D.C., and CPAC is the perfect opportunity.