The Conservative Political Action Conference, more commonly referred to as CPAC, took place last week in Washington. The Conference was once a hub for the exchange of conservative ideas, but now it exists only as a convention for caricatures of what conservatism really is.
CPAC is no longer the conference where Reagan spoke of a “shining city upon a hill.” It is now just another Trumped-up cog in the populist movement within America. Principled conservatives will be forced to develop their own alternatives or risk ceding further ground to the charlatans that pretend to share ideals with us.
Kari Lake, or as I like to call her: the Republican Stacy Abrams, is best known for losing an election by 17,000 votes and subsequently galavanting around claiming she won. And for what? To raise more than 2.6 million dollars between election day and the end of 2022 in support of her legal fight to overturn the Arizona governor’s race, less than 10% of which has been spent on that supposed purpose. CPAC didn’t just choose to invite this woman to speak at their event, but they made her the headliner of the Ronald Reagan Dinner, an event its namesake would never be caught dead attending.
Lake is the epitome of a grifter that has no business in the movement. Yet, because of her undying fealty to Donald Trump, she remains a fixture of the MAGA movement with which CPAC has become fully synonymous. Over the last decade, CPAC has transformed itself from a broad-tent exchange of conservative ideas to an event hyper-fixated on the most extreme and least serious members of the Republican party.
Comparing the rest of the lineup to that of even five years ago is even more telling of the shift in agenda. In 2018 the conference featured headliner speakers Mike Pence, Sean Hannity, Dana Loesch, Rick Perry, and many more. As recently as 2019, National Review’s very own Rich Lowry was a special guest. Compare that to 2023, where the highest profile speakers are Donald Trump, Mike Lindell, Kat Cammack, and the aforementioned Kari Lake.
Notable too is the number of presidential hopefuls who skipped out on the conference, which has historically been a launchpad opportunity for early campaigns. Ron DeSantis, Kristi Noem, Tim Scott, and many others who are expected to join the field were notably absent from the conference. Conservatives who want to harness mainstream appeal are staying clear of the event.
This year’s low attendance at the convention shows that there is room in the market for an alternative. The conference failed to even fill an auditorium for Donald Trump’s speech, an event that in theory should have been overflowing with attendance. Presidential hopeful Nikki Haley’s speech, unsurprisingly, had even more empty chairs.
It is unlikely that principled conservatives will be able to regain a footing within CPAC’s platform. Certainly not until they make a concerted effort to change their practices. Principled conservatives need to build alternatives to CPAC.
Instead of just complaining about how CPAC has devolved, we need to be focused on propping up alternatives. Organizations like Young America’s Foundation know how to organize strong conferences with lineups packed full of broad-tent and respected individuals. They are the ones that stand to benefit most from the void left by CPAC. But beyond that, all of conservatism benefits from the annual hub that a major conference represents, and we should be engaged in a concentrated effort to pick up where CPAC was led astray.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.