By Kevin Lair
Senior Elm Writer
Two years ago I had the privilege of attending my first Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). It was truly life-changing to see so many conservative leaders, elected officials, and engaged voters of all ages together. That CPAC took place roughly four months after the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, lost the 2012 election to President Barack Obama. I can still remember the deep sadness and sorrow of the crowd.
Flash forward two years and a historic 2014 midterm election cycle, and the overwhelming mood of this year’s CPAC has dramatically changed to one of incredible joy and optimism. Conservatives and Republicans of all backgrounds and geographical origins attended this major conference that served not only as a celebration of the success Republicans had this past November but also as a kick-off towards the 2016 presidential election.
Republican candidates across the conservative spectrum were in attendance at the four-day conference, including many who have declared their intent or are expected to run for president in 2016. Former or current governors in attendance included Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Sarah Palin. US senators who spoke included Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Joni Ernst, and Mike Lee, as well as former Sen. Rick Santorum. In addition, conservative activists such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Dr. Ben Carson, Ambassador John Bolton, Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham took the stage and the crowd.
Major topics discussed by the speakers included the economy, the fight against ISIS, and the many failures of Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee for president. Every speaker highlighted their success in implementing policies in their respective states, depicted their vision for America and hinted at their political ambitions for the future. Although the speakers’ level of conservatism ranged widely, their discontent for the failed policies of the Obama Administration and passion for changing the course of America illustrated their unity and commitment to electing Republicans across the nation and into the White House.
To conclude the conference, the annual Washington Times/CPAC Straw Poll results were announced. Over 3,000 political activists in attendance at CPAC voted in the poll, expressing their choices for the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 as well as their views on a wide array of issues including marijuana legalization, immigration reform, and healthcare. For the third year in a row, Sen. Paul topped the list, followed by Gov. Walker. Sen. Cruz, Dr. Carson, and former Gov. Bush rounded out the top five. Keep in mind, this poll tends to be younger and more libertarian than the national electorate.
It was an incredible opportunity to meet and hear from such a diverse mix of conservatives. Not only did the eight Washington College CPAC attendees listen to these speakers, but many of us were able to catch the leaders in passing, whether on an elevator or attending one of their sponsored events.
It was truly inspiring to be around such enthusiastic political activists. We often hear how uninspired young voters are, but I saw first-hand how engaged young conservatives can be and how determined we are to change the tumultuous course that our country is on.
Regardless of who the 2016 Republican nominee will be, I am certain that mainstream Republicans, Tea Party supporters, and conservative and non-conservative voters alike will stand up against the failed policies of the past six years and choose a new direction under Republican leadership. Voters made their voices heard loud and clear in 2014 by electing a Republican senate and a more Republican House of Representatives. In 2016 I predict that one of the speakers at this year’s CPAC will be elected president of the United States.