Why Go to CPAC?

Hubert Collins, American Renaissance, March 2, 2015

For the parties, not the speakers.

We dissidents seem to enjoy analyzing and critiquing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Jared Taylor had an excellent piece on last year’s conference, and VDARE’s James Kirkpatrick always covers it thoroughly. The details vary from year to year, but the conclusions are always the same: CPAC is far from having any kind of explicit racial consciousness, and it costs so much to attend that it keeps out working-class people and real grassroots organizations.

But every year there is something to pique the interests of people like us: In 2014 it was Ann Coulter’s comments on immigration and her mentioning Steve Sailer; in 2013 it was Matt Heimbach and his cadre; in 2012 it was a panel that featured Peter Brimelow, John Derbyshire, and a few other dissidents.

2015 followed the same formula. The highlights were Senator Jeff Sessions being cheered when he cut Jeb Bush’s amnesty proposals to shreds, the boos and walk-outs that greeted Mr. Bush himself and his meager 8 percent in the straw poll that put him in fifth place (Rand Paul won, with Scott Walker a close second), and the whoops that greeted Nigel Farage’s attack on multiculturalism.

Some race-minded protesters did arrive, but stayed outside the hotel with their signs–and as someone who was at CPAC all week I can tell you no one talked about them. As always, there were plenty of different groups who appealed for outreach to this or that minority, with a big focus on Hispanics.

Naturally, the percentage of non-white speakers was much higher than their percentage in the audience, with people like Governor Bobby Jindal and Congresswoman Mia Love featured prominently. The most noteworthy token was Ben Carson, whose claim to fame is being a black doctor who does not like President Obama. His supporters wore tacky “Run, Ben, Run” T-shirts the whole conference, and aggressively handed out literature. Although the T-shirts stood out at suit-and-tie events, Dr. Carson managed to get only fourth place in the straw poll, with 11.4 percent of the vote.

As you can see, CPAC does not go through drastic changes every 12 months. I could feign outrage over the advertisement for the Hispanic-outreach book Brown People that was in every gift bag this year, but it is no more surprising than the fact that Sarah Palin asked the author to autograph her copy. There was much talk about ISIS, Common Core, and “Obamacare”–and little talk about immigration, affirmative action, or crime.

What I will say is this: CPAC, like almost any political conference, is not really about the speeches, panels, and training; it’s about socializing. Are some people genuinely excited to see Rand Paul speak? Sure. Are others completely focused on selling copies of their books? Yes. But for the most part, people are looking to have a good time with like-minded folks, and the hunt for the best happy hour is foremost on everyone’s mind when five or six o’clock rolls around. People are much more interested in staying at the bar until two in the morning with friends from old campaigns than they are in waking up early for a panel about patent law.

There are opportunities to drink beer with congressmen, meet beautiful women who head College Republican groups, and sometimes even get drunk with someone who happens to be hiring for a political campaign or think tank. The thing about CPAC is that everyone in conservative politics is there, so no one wants to miss it.

Here’s a vignette that captures the dynamic: Senator Mike Lee of Utah is an eloquent and intelligent man, many people were in the audience when he spoke, and he spoke well. But when word got out later that day about a hospitality suite on the 5th floor where a Republican group from Maryland was giving out free beer and pizza, so many people showed up that it felt hard to breathe inside the suite. The party spilled out into the hallway, someone complained about the noise, and hotel security showed up. I was at both events, and enjoyed both, but which do you think was better attended, and which one will be remembered?

When people talk over CPAC, not many will ask, “Did you hear that great talk by so-and-so?” Instead, everyone will be asking each other what parties they managed to get into. After all, the panels and talks are public, and can be watched online later, but Breitbart parties are invitation-only, and legendary. Congressman Steve Stockman had a great hot-tub party last year and this year. The happy hours hosted by the Leadership Institute are always enjoyable, and members of Young Americans for Liberty have great hotel-room parties, etc.

My point is that CPAC is not nearly as interesting as a lot of people think–or at least it is interesting for different reasons. Since everyone who matters in that world attends, it can be valuable to take a look at what they are and aren’t talking about, but CPAC is a reflection of the Republican Party, not a leader or vanguard. Everyone there already agrees with the program, and they want to have their convictions reaffirmed in a nice hotel and then party at night. Protesting the event in any way is likely to be about as influential as Occupy Wall Street, but if you attend a talk and ask enough outrageous questions to get media coverage you may score some points. Attempting to insert a dissident speaker has some value, but why not just have our own conferences? Consider that three years ago, Peter Brimelow spoke at CPAC, and this year he is speaking for the first time at American Renaissance. The reasons for this are obvious.

Given all of this, if I were to name one worthy strategy for dissidents to gain influence at CPAC (or similar events), I would say go to the parties. The protests don’t work, and the speeches are not the point. At the same time, one of the biggest problems we have is public relations: Everyone seems to think we are anti-social, whiny, overweight, unattractive, keyboard-warriors. CPAC is a chance to correct that.

You will meet scores of people. Draw them out. Open a few mental doors and see if they walk through. Alcohol is the universal medium of exchange, so go to the bar often, offer to buy the first round, and invite people to your room for more drinks. Opening minds one at a time may seem like slow work, but CPAC is fertile territory.

Or, you may want to get a job in Conservatism Inc. and hide out for a while. This need not be selling out. You could learn a lot about fund-raising, activism, lobbying, and how power is exercised in Washington, all of which are good to know if you ever come out as a full-time dissident. And if you stay on the inside, good impressions could save your career. Every dissident I have met who has managed to hold down a job in Washington, DC, has been personable and friendly–and this is not a coincidence. When people know you and like you, it is easier to laugh off the Southern Poverty Law Center when it calls you a Nazi. And since CPAC is the Republican event of the year, there is no better place to establish a good reputation for yourself among people whose opinions matter.

In my view, CPAC really is interesting only for these two purposes: nudging a few more people toward sanity and getting or holding onto a job. Whatever your purpose, though, be prepared to drink a lot.


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Hubert Collins
Mr. Collins was born in Taulkinham, but doesn't live there anymore.
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