Matt Schlapp op-ed: Challenges, controversy won't stop CPAC 2017
© Getty Images

Election Day brought to a close one of the most tumultuous political cycles in history. As reality has set in, it is clear that the conservative movement has not had this much electoral success since Ronald Reagan woke us up from the national nightmare of the Carter era.

The days of Reagan, and Goldwater before that, focused on the heart and soul of the Republican Party, and whether the party of the right would be conservative and dominated by the Sunbelt, or moderate and dominated by the East Coast establishment. These were the rough waters in which the American Conservative Union, a group I chair, was formed.

ADVERTISEMENT

After the election of 2016, conservatives — now unquestionably dominant in the GOP — re-engaged the conversation of what it meant to be a conservative and whether a new type of candidate should replace the old model. We all know how that question was answered but as the Trump presidency lurches ahead, there are as many unanswered questions today as on Election Day.

 

With this as background, the Conservative Political Action Conference will convene starting Wednesday at the Gaylord National Harbor in Maryland. The more than 10,000 attendees, speakers and media will be asking roughly the same questions: What does a Trump presidency mean for the conservative movement? What does the conservative movement mean to President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE?  

One of the reasons there are questions is because President Trump did not run as a longtime champion of conservative causes. Instead, and true to the dealmaker he is, Donald Trump made a bargain with the base of the party. He would combine his conservative, anti-Obama instincts, and listen to the conservative base of the party to develop a presidential agenda that would shed caution and hit the left head on. The base, in turn, was willing to get behind a candidate who they saw was willing to take on anyone at any time to grow the economy, cut taxes, reform government, and make us safer.  

President Reagan attended CPAC 13 times and began his quest for the presidency at CPAC. Presidents Bush, father and son, mostly avoided CPAC. It is a great honor and a sign of respect that President Trump is coming back to CPAC, a place that has welcomed him for years. This decision to speak at CPAC is completely consistent. Although a much different man than Reagan, like Reagan, Trump believes you “dance with the one who brought you to the ball.”

Like any broad-based coalition, the conservative movement is not monolithic. Working together has its challenges. In the run-up to last year’s CPAC the #NeverTrump effort took off as a pressure campaign against CPAC for inviting Trump. The year before that CPAC was criticized for the inclusion of gay conservatives. And this year is not immune from controversy either.  

We had planned on having Breitbart Senior Editor Milo Yiannopoulos discuss his experience at Berkeley, as CPAC has always focused on the need to preserve free speech on college campuses. However, we rescinded the invitation after the revelation of an offensive video appearing to condone pedophilia.

 Open discussion of legitimate points of view is what separates conservatives from the left in America. However, there is no disagreement among conservatives about the fundamentally evil nature of child sex abuse. We cannot and will not allow this issue to distract from our core mission at CPAC.

Our electoral fortunes have reignited debates over the correct policies on immigration, trade, taxes, the limits of federal power, and the need to re-institute fiscal discipline.   

All of these issues will be discussed and debated at CPAC. Most of the over 100 speakers will be conservatives or libertarians, but some will be more centrist and even a liberal or two will make their case.  All of them are invited to give our attendees a 4 day crash course on the state of the nation and the Constitution.

Having the president, vice president, cabinet secretaries, senior members of the White House staff, senators, governors, members of Congress and others is a great honor. But we will learn the most from those who come in from what the left labels “fly over country” and bring common sense and a re-invigorated political spirit with them.

Let the conservative family reunion begin.  

Matt Schlapp is chairman of the American Conservative Union and CPAC. He was the White House political director to former President George W. Bush.


The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.