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Robin Smith / February 26, 2018

CPAC 2018 Highlights: Guns, Borders and Free Speech

Why is CPAC important? It fuels the grassroots Right and counters complacency before the midterms.

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was held over the weekend in the suburbs of Washington, DC. As usual, the roster of speakers featured the who’s who of conservative politics. Hosted by the American Conservative Union, this yearly event has not just gained prominence in its ability to convene a premier speakers’ list but has served as a youth-dominated rally to boost the political Right.

Estimates are that more than half of the event’s attendees were university students. Among participants who voiced their opinions in the straw poll, it’s clear that, despite the young demographic, the tone was very pro-Trump. The president earned a 93% approval rating, though only 50% of respondents encouraged The Donald to use Twitter more or about the same. Some 80% want Congress to work with the president more to enact his agenda. Republicans not keen on funding the wall on the southern border might be interested in the 75% support for constructing a physical barrier for the purpose of immigration enforcement.

Without further adieu, let’s look at a few highlights.

Unsurprisingly, Trump stole the show, eschewing his teleprompted remarks in favor of stump-style rhetoric. Trump’s hour and 20-minute stem-winder was very fluid, moving from hitting corrupt Hillary Clinton to touting tax cuts, on to building the border wall and breezing past a significant announcement of “the largest-ever sanctions” directed at the saber-rattling North Korea and its nuclear-hungry tyrant. He even included some self-effacing humor. The most memorable line from the speech might have come from his reference to the great efforts to hide his bald spot, which apparently caught his eye on a large screen suspended in the convention hall, bringing the audience to laughter.

Talking about the serious events of the Parkland school massacre, Trump covered the topic from the perspective of school safety instead of gun control. Trump asked, “Why do we protect our airports and banks, but not our schools?” The shamefully obvious failure to protect our children because of the politically correct approach to security was further summed up in the president’s statement, “When we declare our schools to be gun-free zones, it just puts our students in far more danger.”

Trump, in his sixth appearance at the conservative event, wasn’t the only one to address the topic that, naturally, dominated from the stage. Wayne LaPierre, executive VP of the National Rifle Association, obviously focused on the Second Amendment right of Americans to keep and bear arms. The NRA leader rightfully chastised Democrats, who always return to their only refrain that “guns kill” while exploiting the raw emotion after lives were lost at the hands of a young man whose troubled life was well-known to friends, other students, the school, the local law enforcement agency and even the FBI. LaPierre rightly refused the Left’s premise.

As for other members of Trump’s administration, Vice President Pence spoke on the goal of building the wall and the delivered promise of tax cuts. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued a call to “embrace a vision of education freedom” that includes not only student-parent choice of schools, but a broader view of education to match skills to professions that need workers.

Most specific to the demographic of the young audience were the remarks offered by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who stirred the students about free speech on campus. Declaring them to be “Generation Freedom,” Cruz cited examples of the censorship and indoctrination on college campuses inflicted at the hands of the “sixties hippies who are imposing some draconian speech code,” all aimed to silence conservatives. Cruz played to the applause of the Millennials by issuing the challenge that they “spread the fire of liberty” at their respective schools, assuring the cheering crowd, “Freedom works!”

Why is CPAC important? It’s a moment of combustion that fuels the needed movement in a very hostile election environment for the incumbent majority. President Trump referenced the pattern of mid-term election losses characteristic of the political party that holds the presidency, and the warning against complacency should not be ignored. “People get complacent,” Trump observed. “It’s a natural instinct” following the struggle to win the presidency.

CPAC serves to move people from any complacency into action. In light of the emotionally driven Democrat base marching to their radical #Resistance and pushing further to the hard Left, Republicans will need more than a single conference to match that momentum.

The November 2018 election will be won by Republicans only if they employ Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The political Right should not mirror the tone or fall into the talking points of the Left, which is prone to elevate victim status and shun independence. Republicans also cannot merely recite policy points without winning the hearts and minds of voters. But the political Right must act urgently on principle and determination to understand that the energized, angry Democrats hunger for power. Republicans must organize and mobilize to ensure the tax cuts are not reduced to crumbs, to protect our nation’s sovereignty from the open-border approach of the Left, and to keep the momentum of restoring constitutional integrity to our federal judiciary.

CPAC is a barometer, but also a call to Republicans for action. The very foundations of American Liberty depend on the elections ahead.

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