CPAC 2004, the 31st Annual Conservative Political Action Conference, was held January 22-24 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, in Arlington, Va. The premier national gathering of conservative activists, it was sponsored as always by the American Conservative Union in cooperation with HUMAN EVENTS and the Young America’s Foundation. The clear feeling among the conferees was that this was easily one of the best CPACs ever. It certainly had the most attendees, with a record 4,000 registrants and some 73 co-sponsors. There was an almost palpable sense of energy among the attendees, due, in good part, to the over 2,000 young people on the scene.
Unlike past CPACs there was no rebellion afoot against the White House, as judged by their response to speakers the conferees were obviously upset by the administration’s failure to control spending, (in particular the huge drug Medicare bill) by the President’s signing of a campaign finance bill he thought was unconstitutional, and by the proposed amnesty/immigration bill. Although because of a most unfortunate staff error the results of the opinion survey could not be calculated, a large majority of the conferees were clearly in favor of re-electing President Bush, in good part because of the viciousness of the Democrats’ attacks on him and the radical liberalism of the Democratic candidates.
ACU Chairman David A. Keene began the 31st CPAC Thursday morning by welcoming the conferees and telling them that they “are the people who elect conservatives.” He said that there are debates within the movement on various issues that will be discussed at CPAC–and that these are important in deciding the future direction of the movement in the future. And “determine the shape of our politics over the next several decades. He said that “we meet at a time when commentators in the media are asking “What is conservatism and who are the conservatives? We are the conservatives,” said Keene, “and we know what we believe.”
Keene then introduced the conference’s keynote speaker, Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) who helped lead the House opposition to President Bush’s huge drug entitlement program.
As CPAC drew to a close Saturday afternoon, ACU Chairman Dave Keene urged the conferees, when they returned home, to remember as the lesson of this CPAC the example of Marty Connor, who had received the Reagan award at the dinner the previous night for his fight against fellow Republican Gov. Bob Riley’s proposed huge tax increase in Alabama in 2003.
Keene then introduced for closing remarks, M. Stanton Evans, who was ACU chairman in 1976 at the time of another example of political courage: Ronald Reagan’s primary challenge to President Gerald Ford.
Evans reminded conferees of the role ACU had played through independent campaigning for Reagan that year, a campaign that was instrumental in Reagan’s being elected President four years later. He mentioned several lessons derived from this history, among them, “pragmatism doesn’t work if you give away principles, because good principles make good politics, because circumstances change, but not principles.”
He also said his experience has taught him that “all winning conservative politics is local” and that nothing good comes from Washington, that the good things come from the states and cities. He told the conferees that one encouraging good thing for them to remember as they headed home–there were “400 people at CPAC 1974 vs. 4,000 in 2004.”
Keene then bid farewell calling on everyone to begin planning now for an even better CPAC 32.