CPAC and the Long Game for Conservatives

by and

Friday, March 20, 2020

Legend has it that, upon leaving the Constitutional Convention in the late summer of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of Americans desperate to know what type of government their delegates created over the previous 4 months. Wittingly, Franklin is said to have answered with a timeless one-liner: “A republic, if you can keep it.” 

One would be hard pressed to find a seven word sentence that more accurately captures the modern conservative frame of mind. Conservatives have staunchly dedicated themselves to founding principles with hopes to “pursue the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” 

While conservative ideas are alive, they are not necessarily alive and well. In a few short years, socialist ideas have risen from the dead and taken a grip on Millennials and Generation Z. Such staunch dedication to “outdated” values makes conservatives susceptible to mockery and social ostracism in popular culture, in Hollywood, or on college campuses. The future of limited government looks bleak. 

To maintain relevance in the political sphere, campaigns of the right must elucidate conservative principles far and wide with substantive arguments. 

Despite its theme of “America vs Socialism” and amidst a continued popularity of socialist candidates, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) failed to provide attendees with little more than talking points in its case against socialism. 

Instead of appealing to timeless principles, CPAC dove headlong into party dogma. The event was essentially a four day pledge of allegiance to President Trump and treated him as the be-all and end-all of conservative hopes. Attendees were treated to the likes of Kimberly Guilfoyle, whose speech picked low-hanging fruit of ad-hominem. “I think the other side and the Democrats … they are like little wayward children on the playground running around with their pajamas on backwards,” Guilfoyle said to cheers from the audience. Blending conservatism with the often-sporadic Trumpism, CPAC and the American Conservative Union (ACU organizes CPAC) have put all their cards into the MAGA mentality.

This skewed misrepresentation of conservatism does not reach those outside of the Trump tent and harms the reputation of traditional values in the minds of the younger generations. The party-first groupthink exemplified at CPAC prevents the true merits of conservatism from shining through the monolithic sphere of grifters.

The rising conservative leaders of tomorrow know that messaging from the Republican party and conservative organizations matter. In order to combat the emerging popularity of socialism in the United States, Republicans need to adjust their message to those who were not alive to see and know firsthand of its most infamous failures. “Yelling at young people and calling them lazy freeloaders will only weaken our movement” Nick Lundquist, National Policy Director of the American Conservation Coalition said on Twitter, “We need to give them a reason to be conservative or else the entire political spectrum will shift left.”

Can the young vote swing right? Though it won’t happen in 2020, it has happened before. Consider the legacy of Barry Goldwater, whose candidacy for the presidency in 1964 ended in remarkable failure but nevertheless started much of the conservative movement that we still see defended today.  Most of Goldwater’s initial supporters were college aged, but as his ideas of “radical individualism” became more widely understood, a campaign coalesced into a movement. In 1966, Republicans inspired by the ideas of Goldwater outlined in his campaign and his widely read book, “The Conscience of a Conservative,” gained four Senate seats, forty-seven House seats, and eight governorships. Likewise, without the efforts of Goldwater, the United States may never have seen the presidency of Ronald Reagan (who ran a campaign on the same principles elucidated by Goldwater just 16 years earlier). 

In April 1966, Firing Line debuted on PBS. The weekly TV program pitted the witty, eloquent, and charming William F. Buckley against a prominent liberal, libertarian, anarchist, socialist, or even conservative with an otherwise differing opinion on a set topic. The discussions were remarkably cordial despite their often controversial subject matter and Buckley’s skill at making abstract ideas apparent to millions of viewers were invaluable to the causes of conservatives in the show’s 33 years.

Trump will not be here forever and conservatives must focus on playing the long game. Whether it be in seven months or seven elections from now, it is clear that this generation will see capitalism come head to head against socialism in a general election. 

Now is the time for conservative leaders in America to rekindle an appreciation for individual rights in the hearts and minds of young Americans and equip them to counteract revolutionaries pandering utopianism. We have our republic. Dedication to founding ideas and commitment to principle over party, will allow us to keep it.


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Nate Gorman is Editor-in-Chief of Lone Conservative. He is a senior in his third year at Towson University in Maryland where he studies politics and business. Last summer Nate worked for the Federalist Society as a research associate and is planning on going to law school sometime after he graduates.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Nathan Gorman

Nate Gorman is Editor-in-Chief of Lone Conservative. He is a senior in his third year at Towson University in Maryland where he studies politics and business. Last summer Nate worked for the Federalist Society as a research associate and is planning on going to law school sometime after he graduates.

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