NATIONAL HARBOR – Donald Trump was missing, Sen. Marco Rubio was applauded, but Sen. Ted Cruz was the winner March 5 on the final day of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. The annual gathering of conservative activists, which ran from Wednesday to Saturday of last week, […]
NATIONAL HARBOR – Donald Trump was missing, Sen. Marco Rubio was applauded, but Sen. Ted Cruz was the winner March 5 on the final day of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.
The annual gathering of conservative activists, which ran from Wednesday to Saturday of last week, is hosted by the American Conservative Union and features panels on a variety of issues, a political organization booth exhibition, and a chance for presidential candidates to make their pitch to a room of right-wing supporters.
Current Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump was set to be the first speaker on Saturday, the final day of the conference, but backed out of the event on Friday. This decision followed a contentious debate last Thursday evening and a speech from former presidential candidate Mitt Romney urging voters not to support Trump.
“He would not have had a warm reaction here,” said Charlie Kirk, founder of conservative activist group Turning Points USA.
Toward the end of Saturday’s events, CPAC revealed the results of its annual straw poll. Winning the poll by pulling in 40 percent of the 2,659 voters was Texas Sen. Cruz. That victory garnered loud applause from the crowd. Florida Sen. Rubio garnered 30 percent of the vote, while Trump pulled in 15 percent.
Much of the focus at CPAC was on the younger conservatives in attendance and pushing toward an increase in the youth vote.
Rubio, the only presidential candidate at CPAC on Saturday, spoke directly to the younger audience as he urged the crowd against drifting away from conservative principles in this upcoming election.
“The thing I always enjoy about CPAC is the incredible number of young people that come to these,” Rubio said. “And what we ask ourselves in this campaign, what is this country going to look like when my 16-year-old daughter graduates from college? What will it look like when my 13-year-old daughter starts her first business or my 10-year-old son starts his family or my 8-year-old son buys his first home?
“I can tell you what it’s going to look like if we stay on the road we’re on right now. They will be the first Americans, you will be the first Americans, that inherit from the previous generation a country that was worse off then the one left for your parents.”
Conservative action groups catered to younger voters, such as Future Female Leaders, maintained a constant presence throughout the conference.
“We’ve lost by huge margins in the past few elections with youth voters and women voters, and we’d really like to see the GOP effectively communicate conservatism to those very important groups of voters,” Future Female Leaders Founder Amanda Owens said. “We went and we started doing a very robust blog, and doing three to four postings a day. That creates a sense of pride of what it means to be a conservative woman.”
Turning Point USA’s Kirk, who later moderated a panel titled “The Seven Deadly Sins of Hillary Clinton,” echoed the sentiment of reaching younger conservatives and encouraging them to be more politically engaged and vocal about their beliefs.
“CPAC represents a once-a-year opportunity to recruit students that aren’t active on campus or want to become more so, and receive more training. It’s an amazing opportunity for us to recruit and grow our influence,” Kirk said. “We’re here to organize and train young college and high school students on the principles of free markets and limited government.”
Closing out the events was television and radio show host Glenn Beck, who also turned his speech toward grabbing the attention of younger voters and his dystopian view for future generations.
“If you are a person who has a child today, that child as it draws its first breath is chained, each child, to $1,006,208. That’s their share of the debt the minute they draw their breath. That’s their fair share,” Beck said, before comparing the national debt burden to that of Americans being born into slavery. “Let me ask you this: The Republican Party, the party of Abe Lincoln, that abolished slavery over 150 years ago, where have you been? When every American today has been born a slave again, burdened as indentured servants the instant we draw breath.”
The atmosphere at CPAC was that of uplifting the establishment and protecting conservative principles in this election. This sentiment, most of the time, did not include Trump in these plans. Peppered throughout the conference, however, were Trump supporters sporting their red “Make America Great Again” hats.
Jarod Patton, a Trump supporter and student from Dalton State College in Dalton, Ga., did not anticipate a large presence for his favored candidate even before the frontrunner pulled out of his speaking engagement at CPAC.
“I feel like this has been the year of everybody just being fed up,” said Patton, who believes Trump’s support comes from his broad voter base appeal, and not the establishment crowd that makes up most of the CPAC attendees. “What is appealing about Donald Trump now is that the numbers are on his side, and he’s got a lot of money he can spend that he hasn’t even dipped into.
“I have a really hard time with Cruz. I think Cruz has a hard time even working with other Republicans. I think (Trump) is far more politically-minded than we give him credit for.”