Young Republicans Mourn Rand Paul, Trash Trump, and Pledge to 'Make America Dope Again' at CPAC 2016

At "coachella for conservatives," Republican college students were "still Randing," feeling the "Marcomentum," and pledging #NeverTrump.


Doug Alfuro/Twitter

"I just got a selfie with Rick Santorum!" squeals a young woman to her friend as I pass them in crowded corridor at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. It's the opening morning of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual event for right-leaning leaders, activists, and media, as well as rank-and-file Republicans. And unlike most GOP gatherings, this one tends to be heavily populated with young people, especially conservative college students—in previous years, at least 40 percent of CPAC attendees were students and more than half of all attendees were between the ages of 18 and 29.

Overall, the vibe at this year's conference—which included a well-attended Republican debate watching party on the ballroom big-screen Thursday night—was decidedly anti-Trump. Whether it was Sen. Marco Rubio teasing Trump during the debate or panel speakers obliquely criticizing the party frontrunner, taking shots at the Donald drew ample affirmation from CPAC crowds, who had much more love for Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. The young people of CPAC seemed to share these sentiments, with perhaps even less love for Trump, plus a heartening dose of support for Libertarian Party (LP) candidates and mourning for the failed candidacy of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

Caroline Craig, a 21-year-old student at East Carolina University (ECU), says her school has a significant student-conservative population, but "it's really mixed" which presidential candidates they like. "A lot of people at ECU tended to be Rand Paul supporters" and "were very, very sad when he dropped out," she tells me on the closing afternoon of the conference. There are some Trump supporters in ECU's conservative quarters, "but they tend to be more the fraternity boys."

Make America Dope Again

Craig is one of around two dozen young women walking around the conference in matching red elephant-print skirts, generally paired with high-heels and bright lipstick. They are part of an organization called Future Female Leaders of America (FFL), which seems to have a dual mission of being an online hub for young conservative women and hawking FFL merchandise. The FFL website describes its mission as helping to "inspire young women to become more politically aware and informed." 


Nearby FFL at CPAC is Turning Point USA, a college conservative group that dominates the middle of the expo floor with an energetic horde of male and female representatives dressed in red polos and khaki pants. On the opening day of CPAC, the group blasts pop and hip-hop music and dances enthusiastically, students brandishing "Big Government Sucks" signs and hoisting large cardboard cutouts of the GOP presidential candidates above them like foam glow sticks at a bad club. It might sound cringe-inducing, but they actually bring a nice dose of spunk and youthful energy to the otherwise same-old, same-old CPAC scene—the Heritage Foundation, the NRA, the tables featuring pictures of flags and fetuses and bald eagles.

"The only thoughts I had during CPAC had to do with how awesome it is that so many young conservatives were there to make America dope again," tweeted student Danielle Butcher during the conference (she also called for Rand Paul to please come back). Another young attendee referred to CPAC on Twitter as "coachella for conservatives."

"I was not prepared for so many people to be in one area, and so many big names to be in one area," says Marie Pecher, a first-time CPAC attendee from the University of Pittsburgh, when I talk to her in front of the FFL booth on Saturday. On her campus, Pecher says there was a lot of support ofr Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But "as more candidates jump out, a lot of [conservative students] are jumping on the Cruz and Rubio train, as opposed to Trump." 

The Missing Candidates

Trump was slated to speak at CPAC Saturday morning but canceled on Friday, the same day Ben Carson announced that he was suspending his campaign. In the straw poll called at the end of the conference,Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won with 40 percent of attendee votes, followed by Rubio with 30 percent, Trump with just 15 percent, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 8 percent.

Pecher missed seeing Cruz speak at CPAC but had seen Rubio's talk that morning and Kasich the day before. "I really think that the 'Marcomentum' has definitely come to CPAC," she says. During Kasich's speech, "he had a lot of support but it wasn't like Rubio. There was a lot of standing ovations for Rubio, much more high energy for Rubio than for Kasich."

Among students I talked with at CPAC, ??that was the most anyone said about the Ohio governor. They were similarly silent about recently resigned candidates Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Rick Santorum. But quite a few mentioned regrets—either personal or predominant among their conservative student friends—that Sen. Paul had dropped out of the presidential race.

University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) sophomore Kalley Erickson says there's mostly been mixed support for Cruz, Rubio, and Trump among young CPAC attendees she talked with, although "people are still talking about Rand" and are disappointed he's no longer running for president. "I'm sad that he's out too," says Erickson, who serves as vice chair of her school's College Republicans club.

Paul visited UMD in November "and he was pretty popular." But during Paul's talk, "his approach, his presence, the way he talked… he seemed angry," she says. While Paul wasn't exactly mean, "he just seemed a little… scary."

"I've never seen him smile," adds Erickson. "He didn't even smile in the picture I took with him."

Prickliness and a short temper were accusations lobbed at Paul throughout his campaign, most notably during debates. It was a source of sore disappointment for those who hoped Rand would share the charisma and ability to generate enthusiasm that his dad, former Sen. Ron Paul, did. 

Where the Libertarians Are

Ian Taylor is a student and vice chair of finances for the College Republicans club at Dordt College. In straw polls taken by the group, "it's different than national polls," says Taylor. "For instance, Donald Trump usually comes in single digits. We had a big students for Rand group, where he would come in double digits over Donald Trump." A lot of those Paul supporters are now supporting Cruz, he tells me, "and then some of them have switched over to more libertarian candidates like Gary Johnson."

I run into a Johnson enthusiast a few minutes later, alongside a peer who hopes that Johnson doesn't get the 2016 LP nomination. Justin M., a student at Manhattan College and founder of the website Liberty Hangout, supports libertarian presidential hopeful Austin Petersen. "I think his heart is really in it," which you can see through Peterson's "social media presence," he says. Like Donald Trump, Petersen is "anti-establishment," but unlike Trump "he's pro-liberty."

Petersen launched and runs the website The Libertarian Republican and is a past employee of the Libertarian National Committee and Andrew Napolino's Fox Business show, FreedomWatch. Though Petersen has never held office before, the 35-year-old is challenging Johnson—the former governor of New Mexico and the LP's 2012 presidential candidate—for the party's nomination this year.

"When Ausin entered the race, no one thought he had a fighting chance. Now he's number two in the polls," says Justin, presumably referring to an online poll conducted during the International Students for Liberty conference in late February. Johnson came in third in that poll, while first place went to Ted Cruz.

Justin and his friend, Roberto Chamorro, are anxious to go find controversial Canadian blogger Stefan Molyneux, whom they have heard rumors is somewhere nearby.

Chamorro, a student at Maryland's Montgomery College, says he considered himself a Republican until last year, when he "started becoming a libertarian." As such, Chamorro appreciates Paul's efforts in Congress around things like the NSA, but he was put off by Paul's "flip flopping" on certain issues and perceived politicking. Chamorro's presidential support now lies with Gary Johnson, whom Chamorro thinks is "more Republican" than any of the other candidates.

"Look at his record as the governor of New Mexico," he says. "He vetoed so many bills, including raising taxes and such."  

Unfortunately, that's translated to little support for Johnson within the Republican mainstream. At CPAC, an opening-morning speech from Johnson draws only tepid applause and garnered Twitter comments like "this Gary Johnson speech is rather bizarre" and "what the actual hell?"



According to Politico reporter Kyle Cheney, "some libertarian backers of Sen. Rand Paul's now-defunct presidential candidacy suggested [at CPAC] that Trump's subtle dovishness—his rejection of regime change in Libya, Iraq and Syria"—was behind his appeal with young people. "I think he's an authoritarian definitely, very far right," 21-year-old CPAC attendee Josh Paladino told Cheney. "But for some reason his foreign policy has that streak of non-intervention."

But reporters from the The Washington Times and The Huffington Post found little love for Trump among millennials at the conference. And Washington Post reporter (and former Reason staffer) Dave Weigel reported from CPAC that "Trump sympathizers, and Trump fans, were outnumbered but not invisible" and "skewed older than the College Republican fans of Rubio or Cruz." 

Arie Hoekstra, a student and College Republicans club officer at Iowa's Dordt College, saw Cruz and Rubio speak at CPAC and both had a lot of crowd support. He says he was disappointed "not to see Trump here to get a comparison of the three."

Millennial support for Trump has been mixed so far in the real world. In the first four states to hold their primaries or caucuses, Trump won millennials in just one, New Hampshire. In Nevada and South Carolina, he led with all age groups except millennials, whom he lost to Rubio, and in Iowa, Cruz dominated among millennials voters, followed by Cruz and then Trump. On Super Tuesday, Trump won voters under 30 in six states, according to Red Alert Politics

Matthew Mailloux, who heads Students for Rubio at La Salle University, told Red Alert that voting for Trump may be "the cool thing to do" in certain youth circles, but among "the truly principled millennials who are involved in politics and who pay attention to the news" you will see "very, very low support for Trump."

Alas, outside of CPAC, "the truly principled millennials who are involved in politics and who pay attention to the news" seem vastly outnumbered by those who appreciate the "authenticity" of Trump or—much more likely—of Demorcatic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Sanders has routinely earned large swaths of the potential youth vote (at least the potential white youth vote) in state and national polls. As one elephant-skirt-clad FFL member puts it, "Bernie Sanders has just taken control" of the student electorate in 2016. To this, another FFL member says, "More power to 'em. At least they're politically active." 

NEXT: Sanders and Clinton Both Against Fracking: Flint Democratic Debate

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “I just got a selfie with Rick Santorum!” squeals a young woman

    Permit me: “I just got a selfie with santorum!” squeals a young man

    1. And at the Gaylord convention center, no less. Well-don, ENB.

      1. After I been earnin $8768 this-past/five weeks and-a little over, $10k lass-month. it’s realy my favourite work I have ever had. I actually started 7-months ago and pretty much straight away was earning at least $87… p/h. I follow
        this website,

    2. Both men and women are capable of producing santorum.

    3. Santorum at the Gaylord center. The joke writes itself, really.

  2. Never trust anyone under 30.

    1. Too many endocannabinoids in their system.

  3. Would, would, wouldn’t, would, would.

    1. I came here to post exactly this, you bastard.

    2. Would, wouldn’t, would, would, would, would, would, would, would.

      1. not the chicken!!

        1. Do they count as “furries” if they are dressed up as birds? Asking for a friend.

    3. I’ll would Doug as well, so I don’t look like that much of a pig.

    4. Wouldn’t, wouldn’t, would, wouldn’t, wouldn’t.

    5. Wood, wood, not wood, wood, wood.

  4. Yeah, I heard Cruz’ CPAC shoutout to libertarians on the radio Friday evening. Socon Republicans are all about us when they want our votes but not so much when it comes to actually shrinking government or getting it out of our business.

    1. Socon Republicans are all about us when they want our votes but not so much when it comes to actually shrinking government or getting it out of our business

      Besides Ron and Rand Paul, what other “SoCon Republicans” openly appeal to libertarians? And, since nobody is actually shrinking government or getting it our of our business, you could replace it(Socon Republicans) with anything

      1. damn…actual

      2. I was referring specifically to Cruz’ shoutout. And while the Pauls did some unfortunate sucking-up to socons, I consider them to have decent libertarian cred.

        1. I understood that you were referring to Cruz. I was asking who all these others were that “pulled the football away” openly appealing to libertarians

    2. Vagina police is not a strong selling point to libertarians or Libertarians.

    3. Here’s something:…..alization/

  5. “I just got a selfie with Rick Santorum!” squeals a young woman to her friend as I pass them in crowded corridor at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.

    It is a testament to ENB’s past work that I kept on reading.

    1. I should have gone. Dumb, politically active, sexually-repressed conservative college broads surrounded by nerds? It would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

      1. So you have shot fish in a barrel before? Pfft real men do the martial arts move where you grab the fish.

      2. ^This, Mustang, this. But be sure to use condoms.

  6. I need to step into a Foot Locker to get the stench of white, super-dork off of me.

  7. dammit I didn’t know ENB was covering this, I would have gone just for the soul purpose of trolling.

    Caroline Craig, a 21-year-old student at East Carolina University (ECU), says her school has a significant student-conservative population, but “it’s really mixed” which presidential candidates they like. “A lot of people at ECU tended to be Rand Paul supporters” and “were very, very sad when he dropped out,” she tells me on the closing afternoon of the conference. There are some Trump supporters in ECU’s conservative quarters, “but they tend to be more the fraternity boys.”

    Ecu was a fun school when I visited. Don’t remember the girls being all that conservative.

    1. Don’t remember the girls being all that conservative.

      It’s probably safe to assume that all of these college conservative clubs are less than 1% of the student population, and have to be super careful not to be outed to their more popular progtard friends.

  8. Make America A Bunch of Dopes Again! Some more! Wooooooooooooooooooooo!

  9. Trump is an FU to the establishment and the PC police.

    Hardly anyone I know is supporting him for policy reasons.

    It is all “he is not one of them” although very likely he is. With Trump style.

  10. “On the opening day of CPAC, the group blasts pop and hip-hop music and dances enthusiastically, students brandishing “Big Government Sucks” signs….”

    I think that is a sign that I need to stop supporting Team Red. Fucking pop and hip-hop???

    How about some metal? Like All That Remains. Or Disturbed.

    In the name both the Aesir and Vanir, even when these fucking tools try to be “cool”, they screw it up. How about allowing 1 tat booth. I know lots of folks in this subculture who are definitely for scaling back government. But because they don’t wear polos and khakis, or go to church, screw em. Even Paul Ryan with his “Rage Against the Machine” comments (of all the fucking music from the last 20 years to mention), came off as a bit phoney.

    1. Dude, All that Remains and Disturbed ARE pop music. We need some Dream Theater, Kalmah, and Nile to set the mood.


      1. Fuck you! Chimaira, Arsis, and Between the Buried and Me will crush your puny pop-prog acts!

        1. Demon Hunter, Love & Death, Justified, We as Human

      2. If there’s anything more tedious than the Libertarian purity tests it’s the Metal purity tests. “No True Metal Head” arguments suck.

        That being said…

        1. Agreed, I was just trying to stir the pot a little, heh. I’m a fan of all of the above.

    2. Are those kids on your lawn again, Bear? The kids like hip-hop. So what? You don’t have to listen to it.

    3. Listening to the new Slabdragger album right now. Pretty good.

  11. Just something too creepy about anybody under the age of about 25 without kids and a mortgage giving a crap about politics. Hard to believe that any of them can seriously claim to know anything about how politics really works rather than just theory and philosophy and if you’re just operating in a political fantasyland who the hell knows what kind of nonsense you’re liable to believe? If you can’t tell me why your town council includes the local GM dealer and the wife of the pastor of the biggest church in town and the son of the editor of the local newspaper and the brother of the general contractor who somehow wins all the bids on the town construction projects, you don’t understand what’s really going on at the retail level. It’s a business just like any other except the profits and the investments and the expenses get calculated a little different.

    1. It’s the equivalent of sports to them.

      1. And to a lot of other people too.

    2. I wish more people over 25 understood the theory and philosophy of politics. You go kids.

  12. Well hello, FFL ladies. How you doin’? Why don’t we go somewhere a little more private and, uh, discuss the issues?

  13. Millennial support for Trump has been mixed so far in the real world.

    Do Millennials ever actually vote?

    1. Yep, but just once every thousand years.

    2. “I like the idea of voting more than I like to actually vote.”

      -Millennials, generally.

    3. I voted in the past two Canadian elections, but no one seems to care about those as they do the US elections.

  14. “I think he’s an authoritarian definitely, very far right,” 21-year-old CPAC attendee Josh Paladino told Cheney.

    Someone should explain to this bobble head that “authoritarian” and “far right” aren’t synonyms. The far left is as least as bad, if not worse, than the far right in that regard. Perhaps this reality will sink in under Comrade Bernie.

  15. There are some fine looking young Republican women.

  16. But during Paul’s talk, “his approach, his presence, the way he talked? he seemed angry,” she says.

    Maybe you’d be angry too if you had proposed 5 different balanced budgets and spending went up to 4 trillion instead. And you tried your best to protect everyone’s liberty and privacy and the voters didn’t care.

  17. “Any politician who thinks they can fight the evil that has consumed the government is delusional or lying. There is no political solution.”

    The fact that a given person is holding or seeking high-level public office is, in and of itself, proof that said person is morally and/or psychologically UNFIT to hold public office.

    So? Paul Ryan.

    Yeeaah. You know how you coulda seen YEARS IN ADVANCE the fact that Paul Ryan is a lying psychopath who would gleefully assrape his own grandmother, or an entire planet of grandmothers, for a nickel?

    The Barnhardt Axiom.

    You realize this applies every bit as strongly to Trump too, right? Tell me you are not so stupid as to believe for one second that Trump would actually do ANY of the things he is talking about. He’s just smart enough to know what y’all want to hear, and is saying it. You know how I know that Trump will never follow through on anything he is saying?


    Remember, the only thing that actually WANTS to be in a cesspit is a PIECE OF CRAP.

    barnhardt . biz

  18. “I just got a selfie with Rick Santorum!”

    …..and then he parked my car.

  19. I’ve made $76,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student.I’m using an online business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great money.It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it.

    Open This LinkFor More InFormation..


  20. The only thing I really know about politician is that they lie and steal. Why do the even let the people vote, they think that they should run the country while we work for them. They know everything and that the American are stupid (in a way they are right we put them in there). The reason they don’t want trump is they don’t want a outside that will will work for the people and not for them. We had 8 years of Obama how much worse can it get. Lets let them just vote for us and the country will be a better place to live, how much worse can it be. I will never vote again it doesn’t matter it doesn’t count anyway they do what they want. What we need is term limits for all politicians but the fools aren’t that stupid, they would have to get a real job and they can’t live in the real world.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.