Thirteen College Republicans attended the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. from March 1-3. The conference, considered one of the annual rites for young, politically active conservatives, was attended by speakers ranging from Vice President Dick Cheney to Sean Hannity. It also had its share of controversy, with conservative commentator Ann Coulter calling Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards a “faggot.”
Coulter’s remarks came during her address to the conference where she riffed on each of the major Democratic candidates.
“I was going to have a few comments about John Edwards but you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,'” Coulter said to laughter, a few whistles and scattered applause. “So I’m kind of at an impasse. Can’t really talk about Edwards.”
Each of the major Republican candidates denounced Coulter’s remarks as insensitive and inappropriate. College Republicans who attended CPAC agreed to varying degrees.
“Most of us found it tasteless and out of keeping with our principles of private and public virtue,” S. Lee Whitesell, senior philosophy major, said. “It was also not in keeping with our mostly shared family values. If you watched the video we laughed, nervously and belatedly, because, well, it was Ann Coulter, and she was denigrating John Edwards.”
“I didn’t think (Coulter) was as good as she was at other events I’ve seen her at,” Terrance Grado, College Republicans chairman, said. “I like to think of the conservative party as the more civil party. But I wasn’t too bothered by it.”
Sponsored by the American Conservative Union, CPAC has been running for 34 years. Its sponsors bill it as the “nation’s oldest and largest gathering of conservatives,” a place where young student activists mix and mingle with older peers. College students make up the largest group, with 62 percent of attendees between 18 and 25.
CPAC is more than a conservative mix-and-mingle, however. It is also seen as a gathering where Republican candidates can make their case to the conservatives that form the party’s base. This year, for example, all Republican candidates for president, except for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) attended and addressed CPAC this year. A Washington Post story cited former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani’s speech at CPAC as a way to “earn some goodwill with an audience not predisposed to support him.”
Grado said his mind wasn’t made up as to whom he would support in the 2008 Republican primary, but said that CPAC helped him understand each of the Republican candidates better. Grado said he was “extremely impressed” with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who was conservative on all major issues except immigration.
In addition to the various speakers, CPAC featured seminar sessions with decidedly conservative themes, such as “Why Are Liberals Hell-Bent on Raising Our Taxes,” “The Left’s Repeated Campaign Against the American Soldier” and “Loony Ladies of the Left: How to Combat the Radical Feminists on Your Campus.” It also featured more sedate sessions like “State of Campus Conservatism” and “2008 and the Political Landscape.”
For College Republicans, attending CPAC was a way to network with conservative organizations and get ideas for campus activism.
Grado said that talking with conservative exhibitors at CPAC gave him a lot of ideas for lecturers and ideas to bring back to the College.