The nation’s largest conservative conference kicked off last weekend with massive attendance. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) comes at a turning point for conservatives throughout the nation which are faced with an evolving Trump administration. The White House was just ranked by Heritage Foundation as completing 64% of their “Mandate for Leadership” agenda. However, many conservatives still hold resentment towards Trump for his antics and brash public image. The looming Mueller investigation doesn’t make it easier for many of them either. CPAC was a major solidifying point for those who’ve struggled to get behind Trump, but it didn’t go without controversy.

The Le-Pen “Controversy”

Some conservatives were quick to attack the American Conservative Union (ACU) and Matt Schlapp after this year’s CPAC conference, but they’re simply not looking at the facts. Critics claim Schlapp and the ACU chose to give fringe speakers a platform, but the short speech by Marion Maréchal-Le Pen was not by any means Far-Right”. If one was to assess the speech objectively, it was moderately conservative, but did have some subtle nationalist notes.

Those questioning Le-Pen’s integrity should watch her themselves, and judge the statements for what they are. The American Conservative Union responded to critics publicly, and defended their decision to invite the French politician. However, readers should take note that the long-term implications of inviting someone associated with the National Front remains poignant. Conservatives have every reason to trust Matt Schlapp and the ACU board in their decision, but a healthy dose of questions were deserving. The backlash to Le-Pen was felt throughout social media and mainstream media, but the ACU continues to stand by their choice.

The Conservative Juggernauts

Setting the French speaker aside, the conference was primarily composed of conservative juggernauts. Just naming a few, Ben Shapiro, Allie Stuckey,  John Boulton, Ted Cruz, and Vice President Mike Pence spoke courageously. The nation’s top conservative activist groups were featured on the main stage as well. Student leaders including Grant Strobl and others shared their stories on how freedom is thriving on campus. The greatest voices of reason were given the largest platform at CPAC; it was certainly not the other way around.

“The facts are your shield, decency is your sword, left versus right matters a hell of a lot less than right versus wrong, and right versus wrong is just another way of saying true versus false.”

-Ben Shapiro

Ben was featured in the CPAC recap film, and his statements drew massive applause. What critics seem to forget is that CPAC isn’t going to make everyone happy, but it should be a place to advance our ideas. In its own way, the conference acted as a place where competing ideas were given a platform. The future of conservatism depends on all of us sharing why our version is the best version for America. Incorporating discussion and a healthy fellowship of conservative views makes the event a prime place for growth.

The Pro-Life Agenda

Allie Stuckey and a panel of conservatives including ACU board members as well as Governor Pete Ricketts of Nebraska talked about the massive value of human life. They discussed it both in the womb and later on as adults. It was heartwarming to hear a panel discussion on what it means to defend the lives of our most vulnerable people. The ACU team made an excellent decision in supporting this discussion, one which both empowered women, and defended the rights of the unborn.

“The fact that we’re having an open conversation means that there is still hope.”

-Allie Stuckey

By continuing to advance the pro-life agenda at this forum, a cornerstone issue remains central for the conservative agenda. Inviting young leaders like Allie to share her perspective makes many of us more comfortable speaking truth to darkness, and it has also given validity to those who remain staunch in their values.

So Was It Enough?

While some conservatives avoided the conference entirely for its now visible pro-Trump shift, the CPAC straw poll showed massive support for the White House Agenda. With 93% of attendees approving of the president’s job, there was a definite rallying call at this conference. As midterm elections begin to loom over the country, the question of CPAC’s effectiveness of inspiring the base to take action will be tested at the polls.

As an attendee myself, I saw an evolving conservative movement, one which has expanded the tent in some ways, yet remained attached to its values in others. There are things to be proud of, and things we may wish to correct. The presence of conservatives like Shapiro helped me digest an abundance of MAGA hats, and it was certainly something to behold. If one thing is for sure, the progressive left has a major foe in 2018, one which will be relentless.