Conservatives have long been criticized for their inability to coalesce between a candidate, position, or idea. While half of them warn the other half not to split the vote, alienate the base, or become an “establishment RINO,” there never seems to be consensus among conservatives that one person or one platform is, indeed, the right direction for our nation. Conservatives argue about everything.

Neo-con, libertarian, moderate, right-of-center, fusionist. They’re all on display here.

Enter, CPAC. Characterized by the media as a chance for conservatives to “chart a course under President Trump”, the conference brings out the most visible mouths and minds from across the conservative spectrum, on just about every issue imaginable. A commitment to intellectual discussion and debate is the perennial flavor of CPAC.

And it is that flavor, I believe, that separates conservatives from liberals.

Despite the smattering of “Make America Great Again” hats walking the halls, there’s still a tangible distaste for the presidency of Donald Trump, even among many conservatives. But among those conservatives who don’t share enthusiasm for our President, there’s an intellectual honesty that hungers for finding the right answers.

Even after Donald Trump’s abrupt cancellation and ensuing skirmish over his CPAC appearance last year, he still found his way back onto the roster this year. Unfortunately for him, however, he’ll be pitching his populist brand of conservatism to a highly informed conservative audience, many of whom pledged never to support his candidacy.

I’m taking bets on whether or not we hear boos when he’s introduced.

Despite the complexities of a Trump presidency and its implications on the conservative movement, I’d argue that CPAC illustrates the strength of the movement – not the weakness. And if this conference really is the conservatives’ time to determine the direction of the next four years, one reality is indisputable: Republicans now have a mandate, and President Trump is the figurehead.

One final observation: after attending this conference every year for the last six years, it’s astounding to see just how many millennials are in attendance. The conservative movement isn’t as old as everyone says.