This week, conservative leaders and activists from across America are meeting just outside Washington, D.C., for the 30th annual Conservative Political Action Conference—or CPAC as it is better known. Over the past three decades CPAC has become the premier conservative gathering—an eagerly anticipated annual event for conservatives who see the conference as a unique opportunity to renew old friendships, trade information, exchange views, assess candidates for President, get updated on policy and program initiatives, hear legislative reports and get their batteries recharged by listening to inspirational speeches by the leaders of American conservatism. Visitors to the dozens of exhibit booths load up with books, monographs, videos and position papers from the 75 sponsoring organizations and then move to Radio Row and listen and appear on live talk shows hosted by Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Dr. Laura and dozens of other leading conservative talk show hosts who have made talk radio the main communications matrix for conservatives in America today. Many of the attendees take advantage of the conference to schedule meeting with members of Congress, administration officials and the leaders of the Washington-based conservative organizations and many of these same organizations use the sprawling conference as a venue for board meetings and other gatherings. And, perhaps most significantly from a long-term perspective, hundreds of students from around the nation get their first significant grounding in national politics and policy by attending CPAC—many on scholarships provided by the American Conservative Union, the main sponsor of the conference for the past three decades. All of this is true of the 30th CPAC, as it has been for the preceding 29 conferences, but the 30th conference has its own special character as well. The conference that began with 400 registrants in 1974, had 4,000 in 2002 and even more this year, and those participating can take the opportunity to reflect on the history and unique role of the conference that has become the central event of the conservative movement. Beginnings The first CPAC was held in 1974, hearkening back to the conferences sponsored by HUMAN EVENTS in the early 1960s. These conferences also brought in conservatives from around the country and were designed to inform and unite conservative activists nationally and weld them into a political force capable of capturing the presidency. Most of the attendees were eventually active in the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater in 1964. The planned January 1964 HE conference was canceled in November 1963, however, because of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and never rescheduled because of the deaths in 1964 of both HUMAN EVENTS Editor Frank Hanighen and Publisher James L. Wick. But the conservatives were not about to give up. Following Goldwater’s defeat in 1964, a group of conservative leaders met in Washington to ponder the future of the conservative movement that appeared shattered by the Arizonan’s crushing loss. Among the several dozen in attendance were William F. Buckley, Jr. Rep. Donald Bruce (R.-Ind.), Rep. John Ashbrook (R.-Ohio), Rep. Katherine St. George (R.-N.Y.), William A. Rusher, Frank Meyer, Thomas S. Winter, John A. Howard and L. Brent Bozell. Out of this meeting, the American Conservative Union (ACU) was born and Rep. Bruce was elected chairman. The following year, on Sept. 17, 1965, the ACU board discussed the idea of organizing a national political action conference along the lines of the previous HUMAN EVENTS conferences, but failed to authorize the necessary planning. The idea of larger-scale conservative gatherings remained alive, however, and in 1970 and 1971 ACU, HUMAN EVENTS, Young Americans for Freedom and National Review did sponsor conservative awards dinners honoring such conservatives as Vice President Spiro Agnew, Sen.-elect James L. Buckley and Rep. H. R. Gross (R.-Iowa). It was in 1973, however, that the ACU board, at the urging of Chairman M. Stanton Evans, voted to hold the first CPAC, setting the date of January 1974. Chairman Evans secured the agreement of California Gov. Ronald Reagan to speak. At the time the decision was made, the fortunes of the conservative movement were at an ebb. Vice President Agnew, a hero of conservatives, had been forced to resign in disgrace for accepting bribes and President Richard Nixon, who had disappointed conservatives in his first term by invoking wage and price controls, pursuing détente with the Soviet Union and an opening to Communist China, was reeling from the exploding Watergate scandal. Conservatives were divided and embittered by Watergate and demoralized by the prospect of a political calamity in the upcoming congressional elections. The CPAC conference was seen as a way of rebuilding the morale of conservatives and of refocusing the energies of the movement for future battles. Invited to be co-sponsors of the conference were those who had helped out with the earlier awards dinners: Young Americans for Freedom—the movement’s youth activist organization—and National Review and HUMAN EVENTS, the movement’s major publications. Ronald B. Dear and Frank J. Donatelli, the executive directors of the ACU and YAF respectively, led the team that handled logistics and publicity for the conference, while Evans and HUMAN EVENTS Editor (and ACU First Vice Chairman) Tom Winter vetted all suggestions for program topics and speakers. Other conservative leaders were invited to participate and many did, including Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie and Morton Blackwell—three chieftains of the emerging “New Right” movement The title of the conference—the Conservative Political Action Conference—was chosen to make clear that the gathering was to be more than a forum for discussing issues and policies—that it was to help put conservative ideas into practice through political action. Blackwell and other activists involved in the planning of the first conference argued passionately that the young conservative movement cadres badly need organizational skills and because of this the first CPAC—and a number thereafter—gave prominence to political workshops, “double tracking” sessions on foreign and domestic policy with practical panels on direct mail fundraising, campaign techniques and the like. This emphasis on the practical lessened over the years as conservatives came to dominate the Republican Party at all levels but they are still an important CPAC legacy. Conservatives activists were pioneers in a number of areas such as direct mail fundraising (Richard Viguerie), independent expenditures (ACU in 1976), precinct organization (Wisconsin State Sen. Bob Kasten in the mid 1970s) and these and other innovations were introduced to a wide conservative audience at CPAC conferences. Also in attendance at the first CPAC were newlyweds Dan and Marilyn Quayle. Dan Quayle of course went on to achieve national prominence and to speak at CPAC many times—as a newly elected congressman in 1978, then as a senator, then three times as Vice President and finally as a presidential candidate in 2000. Despite the shortage of planning time and the lack of a good database to work from, the ACU and YAF staffs rose to the challenge and the first CPAC drew more than 400 registrants, with some one thousand people attending the Reagan banquet. Press coverage was also extensive, since the national press was eager to gauge the conservative response to the unfolding Watergate scandal. And much of the discussion at the conference did focus on Watergate. Patrick Buchanan, a speechwriter for President Nixon and the administration’s representative to the conference, came under heavy fire from many attendees because of the Nixon Administration’s liberal initiatives and short-changing of conservatives. Buchanan pleaded for understanding, pointing out that the President had intended to move in a more conservative direction, but that any kind of policy initiatives were difficult when the forces of the left were “coming over the walls.” Early on it became clear that conservatives were deeply divided over Watergate. At the packed press conference that kicked off CPAC, YAF Chairman Ron Docksai urged Nixon to resign, while ACU Chairman M. Stanton Evans opposed his resignation. (Employing the droll, contrarian humor that has so endeared him to conservatives, Evans noted that he “never liked Nixon until Watergate.”) Rep. John Ashbrook, Evans’ predecessor as ACU chairman, also came out for Nixon’s resignation, as did a number of other conservative leaders, including HUMAN EVENTS Editor Winter. But several CPAC speakers, such as Nebraska GOP Sen. Carl Curtis, were staunch Nixon defenders. With this background of conservative disarray and disenchantment, Gov. Reagan sounded out a number of conservative leaders about what should be the theme of his address. Some of them advised him to elevate the eyes of his audience above the scandal of Watergate to the principles that inspired the conservative movement—and indeed the nation—in the first place. The governor responded with a lyrical, powerful address that 30 years later stands as one of his finest oratorical achievements. He began by introducing three special guests—U. S. military officers Ed Martin, Bill Lawrence and John McCain, who had recently been released a year earlier from brutal imprisonment in North Vietnam. The men were the latest in a long tradition of American heroes evoked by Reagan—heroes who had fought and suffered and, in many cases, died for a country that Reagan saw as placed “by divine plan between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed by an abiding love of freedom and special kind of courage.” The speech was Reagan at his finest, containing humor, pungent statements of principle, moving stories, invocations of heroes of the past, stark acknowledgement of problems facing the nation, but full of optimism for the future. It was a combination that six years later would win over the American people and carry Reagan to the White House. Two passages are particularly noteworthy. One was his valedictory on the Vietnam War: “Never again will young Americans be asked to fight and possibly die for a cause unless that cause is so meaningful that we as a nation pledge our full resources to achieve victory as quickly as possible.” This principle guided Reagan himself (in the liberation of Grenada), Reagan’s successor George H. W. Bush ( Panama and Desert Storm), was ignored by Bill Clinton (in his half-hearted efforts to combat terrorism) and was revived by the incumbent President George Bush ( in Operation Enduring Freedom). The other noteworthy quote was Reagan’s reference to Massachusetts’ first governor, John Winthrop, and his evocation of “the city upon a hill.” This was the first time that Reagan evoked before a national audience this vision of America. He would return to it often in later years and dwelled on it at some length in his farewell address as President. Reagan’s appeal to American ideals was well received but many of the conservatives at the first CPAC wanted action. Immediately following the concluding banquet, a private reception for Reagan was held by conservative leaders. Frank Donatelli, then executive director of Young Americans for Freedom, recalls warning Reagan that under Gerald Ford the liberals were intent on taking over the Republican Party. “Well, Reagan replied, “we’re not going to let them do that.” Taking that as Reagan’s intention to run for President, Donatelli pressed him. “When do we start?” Reagan was noncommittal, but the presidency was clearly on his mind. CPAC 1975 A year later the conservative despair of 1974 had turned to anger and then to steely resolve. The anger was occasioned by the new administration of Gerald Ford, who had taken office upon the resignation of President Nixon. Ford had seemed to go out of his way to alienate conservatives, selecting New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller—the bete noire of the conservative movement—as his Vice President. Ford had also staffed his administration with liberals and moderates (with a few conservative exceptions) and had opted for a national unity approach to governing that largely ignored the conservative agenda. Moreover, in the elections of November 1974 Republicans took heavy losses in Congress, and the party’s ranks in the governorships and state legislatures were decimated, leaving the GOP and its unelected President looking extremely vulnerable in the upcoming elections of 1976. No wonder then that many conservatives, contemplating this dismal scene, concluded that it was time to junk the enfeebled GOP and found a new, truly conservative, party, linking forces with the followers of Alabama Gov. George Wallace, whose message had demonstrated surprising resonance in the country at large. This strategy was argued persuasively by William Rusher in his book, The Making of the New Majority Party, which aggressively advocated a Reagan/Wallace ticket. However much conservatives were attracted to the idea of a new third party, they were not about to march blindly over the cliff for an idealistic concept. They were realists and they wanted to win. That meant that Ronald Reagan had to agree to lead the effort. All eyes were therefore on CPAC ’75 at which Reagan would once again be the main speaker. Reagan was fully aware of the high stakes involved. He eschewed the history and high-minded patriotism of the previous year and came with a hard-hitting speech that threw down the gauntlet to the GOP’s liberal moderate element. Rejecting the idea of a third party, Reagan urged his fellow conservatives to take back the Republican Party and to hoist for it “a banner of bold colors with no pale pastels.” He went on to describe what some of those bold programmatic colors were: “Let us show that we stand for fiscal integrity and sound money and above all for an end to deficit spending, with ultimate retirement of the national debt.” “Let us also include a permanent limit on the percentage of the people’s earnings government can take without their consent. Let our banner proclaim a genuine tax reform that will begin by simplifying the income tax so that workers can compute their obligation without having to employ legal help.” “And let it provide indexing—adjusting the brackets to the cost of living—so that an increase in salary merely to keep pace with inflation does not move the taxpayer into a surtax bracket. Failure to provide this means an increase in government’s share and would make the worker worse off than he was before he got the raise.” “Let our banner proclaim our belief in a free market as the greatest provider for the people. Let us also call for an end to the nitpicking, the harassment and overregulation of business and industry which restricts expansion and our ability to compete in world markets.” “Let us explore ways to ward off socialism, not by increasing government’s coercive power, but by increasing participation by the people in the ownership of our industrial machine.” “Our banner must recognize the responsibility of government to protect the law-abiding, holding those who commit misdeeds personally accountable.” “And we must make it plain to international adventurers that our love of peace stops short of ‘peace at any price.'” “We will maintain whatever level of strength is necessary to preserve our way of life.” “A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, or simply to swell its numbers.” “I do not believe I have proposed anything that is contrary to what has been considered Republican principle. It is at the same time the very basis of conservatism. It is time to reassert that principle and raise it to full view.” Reagan embraced the theme of party realignment advanced by some conservative leaders, but he did so in the context of the existing two-party system. He urged the majority of Americans who were conservative to join him in the new Republican Party that he offered to lead. Of those who did not agree with this course of action he said, “[L]et them go their way.” At the end of the conference, the sponsoring organizations established a “Committee on Conservative Alternatives” (COCA) chaired by Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.) to pursue the question of whether a new third party should be formed. (Helms quipped that should the liberals form a counterpart Committee on Liberal Alternatives we would then have COCA-COLA.) For all practical purposes, though, the Reagan speech ended serious efforts to form a third party. Instead, most conservatives turned their efforts to taking control of the GOP as Reagan had suggested. There was immediate pressure on Reagan to do the previously unthinkable and challenge incumbent President Gerald Ford for the party’s nomination. Although initially reluctant, Reagan came around to the idea and in 10 months announced that he was a candidate for President. CPAC 1976 With Reagan’s announcement of candidacy, the thoughts and efforts of conservative activists turned to securing the nomination for him. Conservative “activist” is the operative term because most conservative elected officials—even such stalwarts as Senators John Tower (Tex.) and Barry Goldwater and Rep. Bill Armstrong (R.-Colo.)—remained loyal to Gerald Ford. This applied to the Fortune 500 Republican CEOs as well. Reagan liked to say that he had no one for him except the people and he was absolutely correct. Reagan’s popularity was with the grass roots and many of these activists took a break from volunteer work through February to attend CPAC. Reluctantly, Reagan himself decided not to address CPAC that year because he was campaigning in the crucial New Hampshire primary. (This was one of only two times during a 14-year stretch that Reagan did not address the CPAC conference. The other was 1980. when he was also campaigning for the Republican nomination in New Hampshire.) But Reagan was ably represented at CPAC by Sen. Helms and Rep. Phil Crane (R.-Ill.), however, and they received thunderous applause. CPAC 1977 Reagan narrowly lost the ’76 nomination to incumbent Gerald Ford, but, following Ford’s defeat by Jimmy Carter, Reagan became the prohibitive favorite for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. Only one doubt clouded Reagan’s prospects and that was his age. If elected in 1980, Reagan would be 70 years old when he assumed office – the oldest man to ever do so. There was therefore considerable media interest in conservatives’ views on the age question as well as the direction the conservative movement would take looking ahead to 1980. The 1977 CPAC, held for the first time at the larger Hyatt Regency hotel on Capitol Hill, proved to be the biggest to date. Far from being dejected by Ford’s recent defeat, the throngs of activists attending saw the situation as a great opportunity for conservatives to refashion the Republican Party, and as was obvious when Reagan appeared that he was the overwhelming choice for the nomination. Reagan gave one of his most powerful speeches, fingering the burgeoning Communist menace as the major threat facing America. The net result of Reagan’s speech and the tumultuous reaction it received was summed up by ACU Chairman Stan Evans: “Governor, we got your message and I think you got ours.” That message: on to the White House in 1980. CPAC 1978 and 1979 The CPACs of 1978 and 1979 were notable for showcasing the bumper crop of new conservative leaders elected to Congress. Joining CPAC stalwarts such as Helms, Crane and Ashbrook were new Senators Paul Laxalt (Nev.), James McClure (Idaho), Jake Garn (Utah), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Malcolm Wallop (Wyo.), Gordon Humphrey (N.H.) and congressman such as Dan Lungren (Calif.), Mickey Edwards (Okla.), Newt Gingrich (Ga.), Dan Quayle (Ind.), Ron Paul (Tex.), Bob Dornan (Calif.) and Bob Walker (Pa.). No longer merely an intellectual movement, American conservatives were coming into their own at the ballot box. This growing determination to win elections was reflected in such conference panel topics as “building the conservative constituency” and “how to win.” Following the sizable conservative gains in the 1978 congressional elections, “How I Won” became a popular panel on which newly elected members of the House and Senate shared the tactics and issues that had brought them victory. This theme was to be repeated in many subsequent CPACs. CPAC 1979 CPAC ’79 convened in an atmosphere of considerable excitement and expectation. Republicans had made substantial gains in the elections held three months earlier and there was a growing belief that Jimmy Carter was vulnerable. Much of the most spirited discussion focused on economic issues. Mitch Daniels, an administrative assistant to Indiana GOP Sen. Richard Lugar (and now President Bush’s director of the Office of Management and Budget) advocated a balanced budget amendment modeled after the one introduced by his boss, while Lewis Uhler, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee, spoke in favor of an amendment that would limit the growth in federal spending. Meanwhile, Rep. Jack Kemp (R.-N.Y.)argued that legislation cutting marginal tax rates was the superior idea—a concept that Kemp had embodied in the legislation known as the Kemp-Roth bill. Trumping them all was Idaho Sen. McClure who called for a taxpayers “Bill of Rights” that embodied all three approaches. In his speech, Reagan touched on all three ideas as well and the Kemp-Roth tax cut became a centerpiece of his campaign platform the following year—and of his legislative agenda once in the White House. At the ACU board meeting held in conjunction with the conference Rep. Bob Bauman (R.-Md.) was elected ACU chairman, replacing outgoing chairman Rep. Phil Crane who went on later that year to declare his candidacy for President. CPAC 1980 CPAC 1980 returned to the Mayflower Hotel and, for the second time, Ronald Reagan was absent because of the presidential primary in New Hampshire. Although he entered 1980 as the overwhelming frontrunner, Reagan faced opposition in the primaries from a crowded field of candidates including Senators Bob Dole (Kan.) and Howard Baker (Tenn.), former CIA Director George Bush and Rep. Crane. Reagan had recently lost the Iowa caucus to George Bush because of his failure to campaign there, and some conservatives were voicing second thoughts about his viability as a candidate. Most conservatives attending CPAC remained loyal to Reagan, however, and responded enthusiastically to the message of ACU board member (and future director of the Office of Personnel Management in the first Reagan Administration) Donald Devine who filled in for him. By the end of the conference, it was clear that Reagan was the overwhelming favorite. With President Jimmy Carter bogged down in malaise, stagflation and the Iran hostage crisis, the delegates sensed that the opportunity conservatives had dreamed of was at hand. CPAC 1981 Reagan’s decisive victory over Jimmy Carter in November set the stage for an historic CPAC in February 1981 just weeks after Reagan had been inaugurated as President. Not only had Republicans taken control of the U.S. Senate for the first time since the Eisenhower Administration, they had made major gains in the House of Representatives and at the state level. For the first time, CPAC speeches and panels featured cabinet officers (over one third of the cabinet attended, as well as National Security Advisor Richard Allen, U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and budget director David Stockman), as well as a number of newly elected members of the Republican majority in the Senate. For the first time also, the policy proposals and seminars were not abstract discussions for some future time, but real concrete agenda items that had a realistic chance of passage by Congress and implementation by the President. Panels focused on issues such as federal spending, welfare reform, tax cuts, missile defense and a more assertive approach towards the Soviet challenge. The climax of the gathering, however, was the appearance of President and Mrs. Reagan who entered the Mayflower through a crowd of leftist protesters. At the private reception preceding the banquet, the atmosphere was markedly different from previous conferences. Whereas in the past those attending had taken the opportunity to schmooze with the Reagans, ask for autographs and bend Reagan’s ear about pet projects, this time most found themselves tongue-tied in the presence of the new President. As a result, the mostly mute guests were presented to the President and First Lady, and then were ushered out of the room. The Reagans found themselves alone with a half-hour remaining until the banquet began. Heeding Mrs. Reagan’s request that the dinner begin immediately, the hard-pressed conference staff raced to comply. Any feelings of panic were quickly overcome by euphoria as the Reagans entered the ballroom to a tumultuous, jubilant reception, with many people teary-eyed and overcome by emotion as the strains of “Hail to the Chief” were played. Reagan’s speech was a rhetorical masterpiece—and clearly one that he was proud of, since he later selected it for a collection of his best speeches, published after he left the White House. “Fellow conservatives,” the President said to raucous applause, “our time is now. Our moment has arrived. We stand together shoulder to shoulder in the thickest of the fight.” Reflecting on how far the conservative movement had come, Reagan used the Portuguese word saudade, “a poetic term rich with the dreams of yesterday,” and went on to say that “surely in our past there was many a dream ended with broken lances.” Reagan then mentioned by name some of the conservative intellectuals who had lighted the way, including Russell Kirk, James Burnham, Milton Friedman and Frank Meyer and he saluted Barry Goldwater without whose willingness “to take the lonely walk we wouldn’t be here talking of a celebration tonight.” Most poignantly, he saluted the activists assembled that evening. “Last November’s victory was singularly your victory.” He had come, he said, simply to say “thank you.” Contemplating the enormous challenges ahead, the President concluded by telling his fellow conservatives: “If we carry the day and turn the tide, we can hope that as long as men speak of freedom and those who protected it, they will remember us, and they will say, ‘Here were the brave and here their place of honor.'” CPAC 1982 By the time Ronald Reagan returned to CPAC a year, later the country had passed through a momentous year. Reagan himself had been nearly killed by an assassin’s bullet, his tax cut legislation had been signed into law, the first phase of his spending cuts had been made, the administration had embarked on a massive defense buildup and the country was well into the deepest recession since the Great Depression. No fewer than seven cabinet officers appeared to brief the conference on the administration’s progress in implementing the Reagan agenda—an agenda that Reagan himself called identical to that of the conservative movement. He emphasized that 50 years of accumulated liberal programs and policies could not be cleaned out overnight. He asked for patience from the crowd, urged them to stay the course and he sought their help in the crucial elections coming up that fall. Several hundred people filled in the overflow room across the lobby from the ballroom and Reagan graciously agreed to make an appearance there where he gave a five minute off-the-cuff talk. CPAC 1983 The 1983 CPAC was held at the Shoreham Hotel under the leadership of Oklahoma Rep. Mickey Edwards, the new chairman of ACU. The conference followed close on the heels of the 1982 congressional elections in which the GOP managed to retain control of the Senate despite the deep recession gripping the country. The party had lost seats in the House, however, making it more difficult to enact the Reagan agenda into law. Despite this, Reagan was in a feisty, upbeat mood when he addressed the conference in what he described as a “state of the Reagan” speech. It was perhaps Reagan’s most programmatic speech to date, restating his goals on a myriad of issues including curbing waste, fraud and abuse, limiting abortion, crime control, economic recovery and resisting communism among others. At a Sept. 19, 1977, meeting of the ACU Board of Directors, Rep. Crane proposed that CPAC co-sponsorship be broadened to include other conservative organizations. Stan Evans endorsed the idea and suggested that these groups be listed as “cooperating organizations” and that they be charged a fee which would entitle them to advertising in the conference program, a number of conference registrations and booth space in the exhibit area. The concept of cooperating organizations was implemented at the 1978 CPAC and continues to be used today. CPAC 1984 The 1984 CPAC was one of the more memorable ones. It was held at the beginning of a presidential election year and at a time when the economic recovery had shifted into high gear. A spirit of optimism was returning to the electorate, personified by the upbeat Reagan. The CPAC theme that year was “America Is Back,” a sentiment the President articulated eloquently in his banquet address. Reagan reviewed the success of his first four years and then turned to the future and his vision of an “opportunity society” for all. HUMAN EVENTS was celebrating its 40th anniversary and ACU its 20th. The American conservative movement had clearly come of age. David Keene was elected chairman of the American Conservative Union in December of 1984 and has held that position since then, presiding over the dramatic growth of the conference in the last 20 years. CPAC 1985 The 1985 CPAC can, in retrospect, be seen as the high water mark of the Reagan presidency. The previous November, Reagan had scored one of the most overwhelming victories in American political history, carrying every state except Minnesota against Walter Mondale and conservatives had done well in local, state and congressional elections. In his address the President warmly saluted his “old friends” who had been with him over the years and he remarked that he saw his annual CPAC speeches as “my opportunity to dance with the one that brung ya.” “Lets go forth with good cheer and stout hearts,” he said in conclusion, “happy warriors out to seize back our country and a world to freedom.” CPAC 1986 A much more somber mood prevailed at the 1986 CPAC because of the crash of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28. The White House had announced that the president would be suspending public appearances for an indefinite period of time—with the sole exception of CPAC. Looking ahead to the November congressional elections, Reagan urged his fellow conservatives not to become complacent, but instead to push to take control of the House of Representatives, whose liberal majority was thwarting many of his policy initiatives. The President also made a dramatic, forceful plea for support for freedom fighters around the world—singling out UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi of Angola and Adolfo Calero of the Nicaraguan resistance—both of whom were special guests at the conference as was a delegation of Afghan freedom fighters. For the second time Vice President George Bush also made an appearance at the conference. CPAC 1987 Unlike the triumphant Ronald Reagan who spoke to CPAC ’85, the Reagan who spoke at the 1987 conference was an embattled leader heading into his toughest year in the White House. Republicans had lost control of the U.S. Senate and the Iran-Contra crisis was beginning to dominate the news. Nonetheless, Reagan remained upbeat and combative as he championed his vision of “a vision that works,” a future based on conservative principles. CPAC 1988 Ronald Reagan made his 13th and last speech to CPAC in 1988 as his presidency was winding down. Reagan promised to remain in the fight, however. Looking to the presidential election coming up in the fall, Reagan declined to formally endorse a candidate to be his successor, although it was well known that he favored his Vice President, George Bush, for the nomination. Bush had his work cut out for him, however, as there was a crowded field of candidates in the race. CPAC featured speeches by most of them, including Jack Kemp, Pat Robertson, Bob Dole and Pete duPont. America was finally beginning to move past the Reagan era and the conference reflected this with its theme of “the 1990s and beyond.” After Reagan—CPAC in the First Bush Administration CPAC 1989 CPAC ’89 reflected the overarching new reality in American politics—the accession of George Herbert Walker Bush to the presidency. American conservatives were generally well disposed toward Bush, seeing his election as the ratification of Ronald Reagan’s selection of his successor. Bush’s generally conservative campaign against left-of-center Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis reinforced the bond. The CPAC conference program reflected this affinity, featuring a photo of the new President and First Lady on the cover. But Bush declined to appear at CPAC ’89 sending Vice President Quayle to represent him. In fact, Bush declined to speak to the conference during all four years of his presidency and his lack of interest in his conservative base would take a growing toll on the President’s political standing. There were a host of Bush surrogates in attendance, however. Many of the panels focused on programs that a conservative President should implement to address the crisis confronting the nation on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts. CPAC 1990 Despite the President’s refusal to attend, the 1990 CPAC also manifested a generally cordial attitude toward the Bush Administration, with a photograph of the President and Mrs. Bush again gracing the official conference program. Once again Vice President Quayle represented the President and once again was well received. Keynote speaker for the conference was Rep. Newt Gingrich who assessed the “state of the movement,” which he judged to be “a mixed one of successes, failures with the potential for major success being frustrated by the Democratic-controlled Congress. In a prescient call to action, Gingrich urged his fellow conservatives to topple the liberal kingpins of “the imperial Congress” and to take control of Capitol Hill. Much of the discussion at the conference revolved around foreign policy and national defense—a logical reaction to the abrupt disintegration of the Soviet Union and the growing concern about Communist China, where the government had brutally cracked down on dissenters. Conference topics included “Is the Cold War Over?” “Gorbachev: A Man of the Decade?” “Gorbachev’s Challenge to the West in Southern Africa” and “Soviet Actions Abroad.” CPAC 1991 CPAC 1991 convened on February 7th against the backdrop of the Gulf War, which had begun on January 17th. The scheduled keynote speaker for the conference was Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, but he had to cancel his appearance because of a last-minute decision to travel to Saudi Arabia. The secretary’s wife Lynne substituted and was a hit with the crowd. The conference theme was once again “Where Do We Go from Here?” This reflected conservative dissatisfaction with the mixed results of the 1990 elections, which were billed by the press as the “year of the woman,” and growing discontent with the direction of President Bush’s domestic policies. A popular panel on “Conservatives, President Bush and the Republican Party” showed this concern. International affairs dominated the agenda, however, given the war in progress and the accelerating collapse of the Soviet Union. In that connection, the debate on “Internationalism vs. Isolationism” between former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle and National Review Senior Editor Joseph Sobran held particular interest. CPAC 1992 Dissatisfaction with President Bush had grown markedly over the preceding year and this time the President’s photo was not featured on the CPAC program cover. Conservatives were very distressed by Bush’s abandoning his “no new taxes” pledge and other efforts to accommodate congressional liberals. Vice President Quayle was warmly received, but so was Pat Buchanan, who was challenging Bush in the New Hampshire primary. Indicative of the split in conservative ranks was the debate on the topic “Bush vs. Buchanan: Who Deserves Conservative Support?” Some conservative leaders felt that the movement was drifting and a return to core principles was necessary. In response, the conference adopted a “Conservative Statement of Principle for the 21st Century.” CPAC 1993 The 20th anniversary of CPAC was celebrated in the wake of the defeat of President Bush by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton two months earlier. For the first time in 12 years, the White House, House and Senate were all in the control of the Democrats. Despite the electoral losses, the conference reflected a mood of newfound resolution on the part of the delegates. The ambiguities presented by the Bush presidency were gone, leaving a clear demarcation on the issues. Conference topics included “Taking on Clinton,” “Confronting Democrats in Congress” and “Victories on the Horizon: Conservative Candidates and their Chances.” Looking ahead to the ’94 elections, the conference planners included panels on tax, budget and welfare reform, privatization of government services, social issues and political correctness. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole—already viewed as the front runner for the ’96 Republican presidential nomination—was the 20th anniversary banquet speaker. The banquet also included a tribute to former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and the other victims of the witch hunt by Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh. CPAC 1994 Sen. Dole was also the keynote speaker at the next CPAC and his topic, “1994: A Year of Opportunity,” reflected the growing optimism of conservatives in the wake of Bill Clinton’s rocky first year as President. Clinton had stumbled badly on gays in the military, a tax increase and an increasingly unpopular health reform plan designed by First Lady Hillary and conservatives sensed growing possibilities for major gains in Congress. Rep. Dick Armey (R.-Tex.) gave a speech titled “A Conservative House for Bill Clinton?” and a conference panel considered the question, “1994: A Watershed Year?” A great deal of attention was given to the Clinton health care “reform” plan with Senators Connie Mack (Fla.), Dan Coats (Ind.) and Phil Gramm (Tex.) taking the lead in dissecting the plan. The normally serious focus of the presidential banquet was altered this year to feature an uproarious roast of conservative journalist Bob Novak. CPAC 1995 The 1995 CPAC rivaled CPAC ’81 as one of the most festive of the annual gatherings as conferees celebrated the greatest congressional victory in history with the GOP takeover of control of the U.S. Senate and, even more amazing, of the House of Representatives, giving Republicans control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. Rep. Gingrich and Sen. Dole made triumphant appearances as conference speakers in their roles as speaker of the House and Senate majority leader respectively, and conference attendees exulted in the defeat of the Clinton health care plan. The keynote speech by Jack Kemp was titled “Toward a Conservative Future” and panels such as “No Pale Pastels: Traditional Values and the GOP” and “Creating the Opportunity Society” had a distinctly Reaganesque ring, which was no accident as many of those attending regarded the recent congressional victories as the next step in completing the Reagan revolution. The panel topic “Is Clinton Irrelevant?” proved in hindsight to be overly confident. Panelist Don Devine argued that Clinton was plenty relevant—an assessment borne out by Clinton’s masterful, media-assisted choreography of a federal government shutdown that December. CPAC 1996 Still exuberant from the 1994 election triumph, conservatives at the 1996 CPAC turned their sights on defeating Bill Clinton in the fall presidential election. The opening panel “How to Defeat Clinton in the 1996 Election” tackled the topic head on and, just as in 1980, a parade of potential Republican presidential candidates addressed the conference. They included William Bennett, Sen. Gramm, Jack Kemp, Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.), Bob Dornan and Sen. John Ashcroft (Mo.). In addition to policy differences, much of the discussion of the panels focused on Clinton scandals and embarrassments and the topic of by then yearly debate between ABC reporter Sam Donaldson and columnist Bob Novak was “Are the Liberal Media Covering Up for the Clinton’s Whitewater, Travelgate, et al.” Actor Charlton Heston was the featured speaker at the presidential banquet. CPAC 1997 The ’97 CPAC followed on the heels of the ’96 presidential elections, which saw Bill Clinton and Gore overcome the Bob Dole/Jack Kemp ticket to win reelection. Republicans retained control of Congress, however, although with slightly reduced margins. Even though the presidential election was barely over, many conservatives were already thinking ahead to 2000 and several of the speakers had already indicated an interest in the Republican nomination, among them Dan Quayle, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), publisher Steve Forbes, Sen. Ashcroft and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander. Policy issues were hardly slighted, however. CPAC ’97, in fact, featured the fullest agenda to date, with more than 150 speakers addressing over 40 topics. Among them were first-time topics such as “Grassroots Organizing on the Internet” and “Framing the Conservative Environmental Agenda,” as well as a renewed focus on Medicare and Social Security reform. The conference ended with a powerful speech by one of the conservative movements great leaders, Sen. Jesse Helms. CPAC 1998 CPAC’s 25h anniversary, the 1998 conference was held in an atmosphere charged with optimism. The Clinton presidency was still reeling from the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which had the President on the verge of impeachment and prospects seemed favorable for gains in the House and Senate that would give the GOP a veto-proof Congress. Eight out of nine of the men who would seek the 2000 Republican presidential nomination were speakers and, for the first time, Ted Koppel of ABC’s “Nightline” and Tim Russert of NBC’s “Meet the Press” made appearances. Oklahoma GOP Representatives Steve Largent and J. C. Watts were both big hits, as were the two congressmen, Dick Armey and Billy Tauzin (La.), who participated in a debate titled “Scrap the Code,” about the best way to achieve tax reform. In honor of CPAC’s 25th Anniversary, ACU instituted the Ronald Reagan Award, which was originally endowed by the family of Robert Krieble. The award was designed to honor “a soldier” not a general—an outstanding activist in the ranks who had done significant service to the movement at the grassroots level. The 1998 recipient was Charles H. (Chuck) Cunningham, former director of National Operations of the Christian Coalition. CPAC 1999 The last CPAC of the 20th Century provided an awesome demonstration of how the conference had grown over the past 26 year. An amazing 70 organizations and publications—most of which were not in existence when the first conference was held—served as sponsors and co-sponsors. Ten U.S. senators were featured as speakers, including the majority leader of the Republican-controlled Senate, Trent Lott (Miss.). A larger number of congressmen also participated, including Majority Whip Tom DeLay (Tex.). As had become a tradition, most of the aspiring GOP presidential candidates made appearances, including Dan Quayle, Lamar Alexander, John Ashcroft, Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes and Steve Forbes—who gave the keynote address and hosted a reception for the attendees. Unlike the situation 25 years earlier, where the Republican National Committee was represented by a college student, in 1999 the RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson was a featured speaker. Majority Leader Lott reviewed the Senate agenda for the year, while Whip DeLay and Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich (Ohio) did the same for the House. Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore discussed conservative initiatives at the state level and Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith reviewed conservative innovations at the local level. The annual Novak-Donaldson debate was entertaining as always and the conference awards—now grown to four in number—were presented. There were some new developments, however, among them the appearance of Chris Matthews, formerly chief of staff to liberal Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (Mass.) and now with CNN. Matthews who had moved somewhat to the right and had become one of the fiercest critics of the Clinton scandals was well received. At the presidential banquet, Balint Vazonyi, director of the Center for the American Founding and a widely acclaimed classical pianist, presented an original program titled “Messages from the 18th Century in Music and Words.” As expected, a good bit of attention was focused on the scandals, peccadilloes and policy and personnel missteps of the Clinton presidency, but conference attendees were also unmistakably looking ahead to a new century and a new President. CPAC 2000 As the new millennium dawned, CPAC continued to grow. Sponsors and co-sponsors for CPAC 2000 numbered 77, and more than 3,000 people attended—a record. An optimistic mood prevailed among the delegates, who sensed that the Clinton legacy had left the Democrats vulnerable in the upcoming presidential election. Again, a number of GOP presidential hopefuls appeared, joined for the first time by Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the front-runner who spoke via a live satellite hookup. Introduced by his old friend Jim Martin, president of 60 Plus, Bush brought on a wave of laughter and applause when he suggested that the name of that year’s conference be changed from “CPAC” to “See Bill Clinton Pack.” Bush’s speech was well received, with some attendees expressing the opinion that Bush’s tone and demeanor reminded them of Ronald Reagan. Another high point of the conference was the Presidential Banquet at which the keynote speaker was Lee Teng Hui, president of the Republic of China. Among the most interesting panels were “The Race Card: Why Democrats Need It and Why Republicans Blow It” and “Strategies for Reclaiming the Culture” and “The Declining State of American Security and Sovereignty,” whose moderator was Tom Burch, head of the national Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition. The audience was reminded that the year 2000 marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of South Vietnam and that “when you remember the heroes of the cold war such as Churchill, Solzhenitsyn and Truman, remember the Vietnam veterans. They are heroes too.” The plea was met by a standing ovation. Also greeted with hearty applause were former Senators James Buckley (C.-R.-N.Y.) and Eugene McCarthy (Minn.), unlikely but effective allies in Buckely v. Valeo, the Supreme Court decision that overturned much of the ill-conceived “campaign reform act” of 1974. The two received the “Defender of the Constitution Award” in recognition of the 25th anniversary of Buckley v. Valeo. CPAC 2001 CPAC 2001 came one month after the inauguration of George W. Bush as President and the new President was represented by new Vice President Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, the President’s chief strategist and political advisor. Rove noted the delicious irony of his appearance, recalling that as chairman of the College Republicans he was dispatched by the Gerald Ford-dominated Republican National Committee to be their sacrificial lamb at CPAC 1975 and he went on to give a vigorously delivered conservative message that was well received by the audience. Chaney was also a hit when he spoke at the presidential banquet. Representation by the Bush Administration was otherwise scant, however, the result of a conscious decision by the new President to avoid sending mixed signals before his team was fully organized. Among the more interesting aspects of the conference were the several visiting foreign dignitaries. One of the banquet speakers was former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the new Charlton Heston Award for Courage Under Fire was presented by Heston to the Hon. M. G. Buthelezi, minister of Home Affairs of the Republic of South Africa. CPAC 2002 The 29th CPAC was the largest ever drawing an astonishing 4,000 participants. The conference was held in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, four months earlier, and the agenda thus focused heavily on the war on terrorism. “National Security in a New Era,” “Post-September 11: Seismic Shifts in American Politics,” and “Freedom in a Time of War,” were among the conference topics. White House National Security advisor Condoleezza Rice gave an update on the progress of the war. (Rice, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, Budget Director Mitch Daniels and Lynne Cheney were the only Bush Administration figures to speak, a result of the President’s desire to avoid an undue appearance of partisanship during a time of national crisis.) “White House Communication in Times of Crisis” was another war-related panel, featuring Michael Deaver, representing the Reagan Administration, Victor Gold speaking for the Nixon Administration and—a first—Mike McCurry speaking for the Clinton presidency. Rounding out the discussion of the war on terrorism was former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick’s talk on “The Role of the United Nations in the War on Terrorism” and William Bennett’s speech on “Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism.” Other firsts were the appearance of columnist George Will who gave a scathing critique of the McCain-Feingold “campaign-reform” bill and a speech by radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger who spoke about the imperative of moral revival in America. Katherine Harris, former Florida secretary of state and still a demon to the left because of her role in certifying George W. Bush’s electoral victory in Florida, received a thunderous ovation as did one of the conservative movement’s great heroes, Sen. Jesse Helms, who had announced his intention to retire at the end of his fifth term in the Senate. Helms titled his address “Leaving the Senate—but not the Fight.” Another highlight was the appearance of legendary television personality Art Linkletter who received the CPAC lifetime achievement award. The Ashbrook Award was presented, fittingly, to author M. Stanton Evans, the chairman of the American Conservative Union when the first CPAC was held. Evans spoke on “The State of the Movement and the Road Ahead,” a fitting topic for CPAC on the close of the conference’s third decade. David Keene, the fifth ACU chairman to preside at CPAC, closed out the conference with a look ahead to CPAC 2003—the 30th Conservative Political Action Conference that is being held this week, a great milestone in the history of our vibrant conservative movement.
CPAC celebrates 30 years of bringing together conservative activists from across America. Jim Roberts takes Human Events readers on a tour of the many successful conferences since 1974.