Is CPAC Still Whack?

The biggest conservative conference of the year used to be welcoming to libertarians. What about this year?



Politics just ain't that fun anymore. They're insane, sure, but not fun.

This is what I'm thinking as I work up the courage to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), held annually just outside of Washington, D.C. The event, sponsored by the American Conservative Union, officially started today and thousands of conservatives are out in force. CPAC started in 1974 and there was a time in the Aughts when it routinely reached out to libertarians and even groups such as the ACLU. Over the years, Reason people, including myself, have spoken on panels there. But that was then and this is…a weird political moment where the Republican president is chumming it up with a North Korean dictator while his former personal lawyer and fixer is testifying about his boss's alleged high crimes and misdemeanors before Congress. And the House is rejecting the president's emergency declaration about a Southern border crisis. These are not normal times, so is there any reason to expect CPAC to be an island of normalcy? Probably not, especially given some relatively recent highlights of the conference.

A dozen years ago, in 2007, CPAC gave its first-ever Jeane Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award to Matt Sanchez, a Marine reservist who had gotten harassed by college socialists while tabling for ROTC on the campus of Columbia University. The organizers didn't know it at the time, but Sanchez had appeared in a number of gay porn films with titles such as Jawbreaker and Montreal Men. To their credit, when it came out they rolled it with just fine (so did conservatives more generally; Sanchez went on to write for National Review and Fox News).

In 2011, CPAC's then-organizer, the writer and novelist Lisa De Pasquale, worked with Andrew Breitbart and Ann Coulter to bring the gun-owning lesbian singer Sophie B. Hawkins for a self-consciously "Big Gay Party" sponsored by the Republican gay rights group GOProud. "I'm liberal in bed, conservative in the head," she told Reason at the time. That ended up being De Pasquale's last CPAC rodeo. During her time running the show (she started in 2006), she told me today on the phone, the reigning ethos was to grow the crowd every year and bring in new groups that might bring fresh blood to the broadly defined conservative movement. More recently, she said, it seemed to be less about a big tent and more about a tighter definition of conservativism.

Between 2010 and 2015, the libertarian-leaning father-son duo Ron Paul or Rand Paul won every CPAC presidential straw poll except for one (in 2012, Mitt Romney took home the honor). 2015 was in fact a helluva year: CPAC gave the Jeane Kirkpatrick award to Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, who believes that AIDS is God's "penalty" against the very same homosexuals who partied at CPAC just a few years earlier. By 2016, Matt Welch and Todd Krainin were asking "Is There Anything or Anyone for Libertarians at CPAC?" In keeping with "Betteridge's law of headlines," the answer was no. In 2017, CPAC not only disinvited Gamergate troll Milo Yiannoupoulis after an old interview surfaced in which he may have defended pederasty, current organizer Matt Schlapp said that the one-time Breitbart hand was actually a libertarian and not conservative at all (in fact, Milo is vocally anti-libertarian.). Also in 2017, President Donald Trump graced the stage at CPAC, denouncing "globalists" in the most bone-headed, nativist way possible. "There is no such thing as a global anthem," pronounced Trump while arguing that nobody can simultaneously be an American patriot and a citizen of the world.

This isn't to say that CPAC isn't still capable of throwing some meat in the general direction of libertarians between rave-up denunciations of socialism and anti-anti-racism by social-media sensations Diamond & Silk CPAC. As Reason's Joe Setyon reported, one of today's speakers at the conference was CNN's Van Jones, who was there to talk about criminal justice reform. "Matt Schlapp and I disagree on so many things," Jones told Setyon, "but we respect each other, and we listen to each other…and we also do agree on criminal justice reform."

That's the sort of ideological surprise I'm going to be searching for while asking attendees and presenters how they feel about Donald Trump and the future of the conservative movement. Trump has only been in office for a couple of years but he has redefined what it means to be a Republican in substantial ways. The Party of Lincoln used to be in favor of immigration, free trade, the FBI, and endless war. Nowadays, not so much. Ostensibly small-government senators such as Ted Cruz, who just a few years ago denounced Barack Obama as a tyrant for issuing an executive order shielding some immigrants from deportation, are refusing to say whether they will join just 13 Republican House members in voting to terminate the president's phony-baloney declaration of emergency. During Michael Cohen's testimony, many Republicans shouted themselves hoarse while taking pot shots at the convicted liar but didn't really undermine his claims, either. Conservatives may not be especially fond of libertarians these days, but it's far from clear what they believe in anymore, except for defending Donald Trump no matter what. It will be interesting to find out what they're thinking.

NEXT: With Key Deadline Friday, Is the Trade War With China About to End?

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  1. The Party of Lincoln used to be in favor of immigration, free trade, the FBI, and endless war.

    To be honest I much prefer that version of the GOP. Supporting “endless war” isn’t exactly admirable, but it’s nowhere near as bad as being anti-immigration.


    1. “…Supporting “endless war” isn’t exactly admirable, but it’s nowhere near as bad as being anti-immigration…”

      Wonderful! Killing random folks is worse than keeping them from entering a particular country!
      One of your best!

    2. #LibertariansForEndlessWar

    3. Endless war increases immigration by creating endless refugees.

  2. When did CPAC kick the JBS out?

    The ACU website now has some disturbingly-slavish groveling to IP interests, almost like they got a big fat MPAA donation.

  3. So, now Fonzie Jacket is against making peace with enemies

    1. #LibertariansForEndlessWar

    2. Not sure where you gleaned that nugget of wisdom from this article.

      1. “But that was then and this is…a weird political moment where the Republican president is chumming it up with a North Korean dictator while his former personal lawyer and fixer is testifying about his boss’s alleged high crimes and misdemeanors before Congress.”

        It’s a pretty strange line. Suddenly talking to your enemies is a bad thing.

  4. Conservatives noticed that libertarians’ willingness to get in bed with socialists via “multiculturalism” and “moral relativism” would be the death of us all, and it taught them something about the relationship between culture and the NAP.

    They’re emphasizing the importance of culture that makes classical liberalism possible, and the anarcho-libertarians responded by going on one of their usual “perfect is the enemy of the good” rants.

    Now Trump’s tweets are the only reason that the American masses ever get non-socialist messaging (because left-wing media air them and go way too far left in responding to them). Trump is shouting (profanely) about the emperor having no clothes, and our so-called defenders of liberty are scolding him for his potty mouth.

    Don’t tread on me, indeed…

    In short, CPAC has become more libertarian than the libertarians.

    1. Sorry, bud. Any libertarian society leads to pluralism, because when people are free, they are free to express their differences. Your wet dream of an insular society where everyone is just like you is not compatible with liberty.

      1. Exactly.

        “I want liberty, but only if everyone around me is just like me” is never going to happen. It didn’t even happen back in the “good old days”.

      2. LOL

        PURE libertarianism would produce a pluralistic society… That would rapidly become NON libertarian.

        This is the thing you people can’t wrap your heads around. Sure, people can have different religions, so long as those religions don’t have anything too horrible in them… But if a society DOES NOT have the proper cultural views, IT WILL NOT REMAIN LIBERTARIAN. This is what has done the US in. We have too many people that CULTURALLY are opposed to freedom and libertarian ideas.

        In short being a purist libertarian society, you cannot maintain that society. The funny thing is, if you’re a 98% libertarian society, with the correct 2% exceptions… You COULD maintain that libertarian society.

        The universe is a cruel mistress playing jokes like this on us mere mortals, but it is absolutely true.

        1. These are non-Libertarians babbling about what Libertarianism would do blah blah blah.

          The Lefties have no idea what Libertarianism is or what we think. To be fair, Libertarianism does have a bunch of Anarchists hiding among us and spewing non-Libertarian narrative. I guess because nobody likes Anarchists and some people actually like Libertarians. That and they will be damned if Libertarianism makes a come back to save the USA.

        2. Sure, people can have different religions, so long as those religions don’t have anything too horrible in them…

          Sure, people can say certain words, so long as those words don’t have anything too horrible in them…

          Sure, people can smoke certain plants, so long as those plants don’t have anything too horrible in them…

          Sure, people can own certain guns, so long as those guns don’t have anything too horrible in them…

          You’re an authoritarian. Go back to your alt-right fever swamp.

          1. Sooooo, throwing The Gays off of rooftops is totally cool then? How about marrying 8 year old girls, or was it 9? I always forget how old Muhammad’s youngest wife was…

            I’m not talking about what kind of stupid hat or hear scarf to wear. Some religions have some seriously wack shit in them. INCLUDING Christianity in its harshest interpretations.

            Here’s the thing: Christianity has been getting watered down and turned into a blaise religion that ignores half the teachings in the bible for CENTURIES. Some other religions, like Islam, are still really fucking brutal and hardcore IN PRACTICE. TODAY.

            I don’t seem to recall having many problems with Buddhists lately… Or Hindus for that matter. I’m just saying, that some cultural views, which can include religious views, are INCOMPATIBLE with living in a libertarian/free society. If you don’t like it, you can fuck right off!

            My whole point is that pure libertarianism CANNOT maintain itself. You could maintain a libertarian society by denying entry to people who do not pass a political litmus test, deny voting rights to those born IN your country who can’t pass a history/civics test and/or don’t hold the correct views, etc.

            You will NEVER be able to maintain a libertarian society without restricting who comes in, or at least who is allowed to vote. But letting people in and not allowing them to vote is a recipe for disaster long term sooo best to just not let them in.

        3. The Chemjeffs of the World are so upset that things are not going their way.

          Thanks again Trump!

            1. MAGA!

        4. Maybe it would. Maybe it wouldn’t.

          Let’s actually try pure libertarianism and see. I like socialism, which has been tried over and over again and always not only fails but leads to mass graves?I’m willing to give pure libertarianism, “free to be you and me” a shot!

          The worst that can happen is that you’ll be absolutely right and the people with natural authoritarian streaks will gradually take over, and then we’ll get, what? Hmm, I guess pretty much what we have now.

          1. UNLIKE socialism. Damn spell correct.

            Point is, all the whining about some controls needing to be kept in place lest things go south and away from freedom is just the authoritarians’ impulse to crave control over freedom.

          2. I’d be game for, I dunno, Canada or something to try it!

            Thing is, the US is foundationally too damn awesome to want to risk. We can go 99% more libertarian than we are, and I am 110% in favor of that. I guess, perhaps a good way to put it is, why don’t we try the crazy bits that seem REALLY likely to utterly destroy the country LAST?

            We could eliminate the income tax, deregulate, privatize EVERYTHING, etc etc etc. But let’s leave open borders as the LAST purist libertarian thing we do.

            The thing of it is, we can already SEE that it is a failure now though. Which is why I don’t need to TRY it. We already have a watered down version of letting in tons of foreigners, and we can see EXACTLY how that has turned out. Every single one of them as a group is far more anti liberty than native born Americans. That already answers the question for me, and any logical, scientifically minded person.

      3. Given a religion whose first principle is to hate the NAP and individualism, and given an army of followers of that religion who coordinate their activities, what does your ideal libertarian society do?

        1. Allow itself to be destroyed.

          This is the problem with libertarianism. By purist libertarian principles, 100 million open and militant Chinese communists could not be stopped from moving to your country, and then immediately voting to turn into a communist nation!

          This is the whole damn problem with it. The world could be 99.9% more libertarian than it is now, but certain things like this simply cannot be in the world as it exists today. Maybe in some hypothetical future world where things are radically different.. But not as it is.

    2. CPAC has become more conservative than libertarian, if they now emphasize culture over liberty.

      1. Don’t you have some child rapists to smuggle into the country?
        Maybe the eunuch can help you

      2. So Jeffy, do you invite the other neighborhood kids over to p,ay them dose them with druggedjuice boxes? So you can turn them over to your illegal pedo pals?

    3. “Conservatives noticed that libertarians’ willingness to get in bed with socialists via “multiculturalism” and “moral relativism” would be the death of us all,”


      Globalists to the Left
      Nationalists to the Right

      1. Yup. Some cultural views are 100% incompatible with libertarianism and freedom. Therefore you must either destroy those cultural views in certain ethnic groups if you allow them to immigrate… OR your society will become less free. There is no other alternative on CERTAIN issues/views.

        1. Liberty and cultural homogeneity are diametrically opposite.

          If you want to try to enforce cultural homogeneity, it produces oppression of one form or another.

          We know which side you’ve picked. The only reason remaining is why you even bother with a pretense of supporting liberty.

          1. Chemjeff means absolute Liberty, or Anarchy, of course.

            1. Personal broadsides are not an argument.

            2. Chemjeff means absolute Liberty, or Anarchy, of course.

              You call me an anarchist.

              Others call me a progressive statist.

              They both can’t be right.

              Since I’m pissing off both of you I must be doing something right.

              1. Like helping convicted child rapists from other countries sneak into the US?

          2. What about enforcing it through SOCIETY Jeff?

            Or are you one of those “libertarians” who thinks it is WRONG to have social pressure on issues that most people think are undesirable? Like it’s “mean” to look down on heroin junkies and socially pressure them to stop being pieces of shit?

            I have my doubts about whether or not a multi racial society with no clear group in charge can be functional, since people are naturally tribal and tend to attack each other along these lines historically… But I KNOW that having multiple completely different CULTURES in a society is a recipe for disaster, and a miserable life constantly filled with in fighting.

            America is the way it is today because of the 1965 immigration act.

            We would be a far more peaceful, cohesive, happy, prosperous, and libertarian/conservative nation today if we had been FAR more selective about who we let in, and metered the amount out a lot slower. I’m fine with letting in well educated non whites in reasonable levels, so they can assimilate properly, and not be a drain on us financially as low skilled folks are. We’ve simply gone overboard, and it is tearing apart the fabric of this country because we have ZERO cohesion anymore.

    4. The libertarians are really into the “both sides” thing these days. Its so one-sided when i comes to discourse its laughable. Liberals call anyone who disagrees with then a racist.

      1. Part of the reason Lefties hate us Libertarians so much is that we are used to arguing issues from every angle.

        We have the moral high ground, so when Tony yells about us watching FOX to get narrative orders like he does from Lefty Command, its laughable. Libertarians don’t get narrative marching orders. Nobody is in charge of our positions.

  5. “Is CPAC Still Whack?”
    Is this some beltway code to indicate something?
    Nick, don’t shoe-polish the jacket, throw it out and learn English.

    1. It’s “wack”, isn’t it?

  6. Trump has been our greatest libertarian president. I voted for him only because of the judges, and he is delivering on that promise so far (Gorsuch and possibly Kavanaugh). Beyond that he’s deregulating and he didn’t start up any new wars like Reagan (e.g war on drugs). Despite spending like a drunken sailor, I would still vote for him again. (Of course I will vote for Rand, unless my vote mattered.) Conservatives might not want to admit that they are functionally libertarian, but they are. Let’s let them keep thinking we’re loons. #libertariansshallinherittheearth

    1. Amazing!
      I voted for Johnson. Since I live in CA, it makes no difference unless it trips the ‘voted for who?’ trigger. By now I know of 4 people in the bay area who admit to voting for Trump. Two of those who did so (as if their votes mattered in CA) exercise control of a *LOT* of private money, not CA gov’t fund sinkholes,
      Like you, the best I hoped for was a non-proggy SCOTUS nomination in the unlikely result of the hag losing. In the event, we’ve gotten FAR more than that.
      Yes, he’s a blowhard, and a philanderer, which at worst, makes him close to Obo and then not quite as slimy as Bubba.
      You can argue he’s an econ-ignoramus, given his preference for tariffs, or, as the market seems to suggest, he’s negotiating for better deals; bet against the market at your risk. Those folks who manage a lot of money are still betting he’s far better than the alternative.

      1. +10

      2. Totally agree. I also voted for “Aleppo” Johnson, solely because I had been tricked into believing that Hillary had it in the bag.

        Trump has been much better than I dared to hope. Only someone with a strong streak of asshole would have been able to stand up under constant pummeling he’s been taking from Dems, NeverTrumpers, and the media, not to mention shitstains like Comey, Mueller, and their goons. He’s not only survived–he’s been able to actually accomplish good stuff.

        1. True. He’s shown more discipline than I might have. I likely would have had them all shot by now.

    2. What is libertarian about government control of international markets in labor and goods? It was Adam Smith arguing against the use of tariffs that led to the founding of not just libertarianism, but lowercase L liberal economics in toto. Dressing up stale ideas of government regulated trade & travel in racialist language does not make those ideas libertarian, it makes them morally odious as opposed to merely incorrect.

  7. “The Party of Lincoln used to be in favor of immigration, free trade, the FBI, and endless war. Nowadays, not so much.”

    Reason used to be against the Deep State and endless war. Nowadays, not so much.

    All that matters is open border and open markets – Corporate Profits Uber Alles.

    1. + 10 Kochs

  8. I still say libertarianism with a few exceptions is the only road to take. Pure libertarianism is a self destroying ideology. Those who can’t wrap their heads around that are fools.

    1. I still say libertarianism with a few exceptions is the only road to take.

      So those “few exceptions” constitute the violent racist crap that you spew?

      1. Little Jeffy, who claims to never play the race card……..

        Fucking pedo lover

      2. Like allowing in ONLY skilled people from other countries? Cuz that’s how “racist” I am. I’m soooo racist I ONLY want Indian doctors or engineers moving here! GEE WHIZ I sure am evil!

        But yeah, I do think we need to meter this shit. Because the influx we have had has clearly fucked the country up, and made us more divided than ever, AND pushed our political spectrum far to the left of where it would have been otherwise.

        I’d rather have more social cohesion and less leftists BS than MORE uneducated brown people just because it’s supposed to be trendy and cool to have lots of uneducated brown people around for some reason…

    2. The Founders were Classical Liberals which allowed them to form the United States with slavery.

      Libertarians would rather have no nation than slavery. I personally think slavery would have been abandoned on its own as it had in other places and then the United States could have been formed. Alas, there is no way to know and who knows how long that would have taken.

      History being what it is, now all we have to get rid of is the disease of Socialism from the USA.

      1. now all we have to get rid of is the disease of Socialism Collectivism from the USA.

        there FIFY

        1. Fuck off pedo lover.

    3. It really is. It’s just doing things for the sake of doing them. Lower taxes just because. Then a guy comes and wants to slash them and Reason writers dislike that too lol

  9. This was certainly…a bunch of words.

  10. Did anyone else cringe at the immigration conflation?

  11. Nick, you are not libertarian. Neither is Reason.

    1. +100

    2. Everyone knows that Real Libertarians are just Republicans who smoke pot.
      C’mon Nick, get on the Trump Train like you’re supposed to!

      1. Qwell we can’t all be pro illegal alien pedophile like you Jeffy. You don’t care how many children they rape as long as you can get more illegals here.

  12. And what the hell is that photo supposed to mean? Is Reason implying that Trump supporters are all fatsos with a lousy fashion sense? Well?

  13. Dear God….

    For the 4 millionth time, People do not defend Donald Trump no matter what. It just so happens that the Democrats have gone full blown “to hell with the USA” and Trump’s ideas and flaws look like gold by comparison. The problem libertarians have is they are obsessed with not wanting to look like racists or sexists etc so they fall into the hands of the DEMS like the puppets they are…. just pick a side. We ARE ALL truly at that point whether we like it or not….

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