Something is different at CPAC 2016

The spotlight is moving away from spectacle back to issues and activists, where it began in 1980.

Image Jacquie Kubin Communities Digital News (

NATIONAL HARBOR, March 3, 2016 — Something is different this year at CPAC. The Pine Tree Flag stands on the stage next to the Stars and Stripes. No big-name politicians are on the agenda for the first day; instead, leading conservatives. The opening speeches by Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Joni Ernst were followed by a panel on national security. The conference theme is Our time is now.

What’s going on?

The spotlight is moving away from spectacle back to issues and activists, where it began in 1980, according to KT McFarland, who moderated the national security panel.

The change began last year with the new Chairman Matt Schlapp. Schlapp has taken the conference back to its roots, when CPAC was a smaller, more intimate venue for sometimes contentious debates.

In this first morning of CPAC, the issues are front and center. Gov. Walker spoke about reclaiming the states through solid conservative reforms. Sen. Ben Sasse described American exceptionalism and said that we should be conservatives first, Americans second and Republicans third.

There’s no one named Paul on the agenda. Absent are the hordes of young Paul supporters. Instead, Gov. Gary Johnson spoke for libertarianism. He was one of three speakers in a series called “Three Approaches to Conservatism.” The other two were Sasse and Rick Santorum.

There was a panel on religious liberty and marriage in America, something unheard of at previous CPACs. A pro-life panel is coming up on Friday. Two years ago, the issue was barely on CPAC’s radar.

There was a big emphasis on security issues. In addition to McFarland’s panel on security in the morning, the Center for Security Policy held an extended, two-panel discussion on Countering the Global Jihad in the afternoon. That included a sobering analysis of the situation in Europe by Lars Hedegaard of Denmark and Paul Weston, the Chairman of the new Liberty GB Party in the UK. The main problem according to both is the unwillingness of politicians to deal with the issues of cultural jihad.

The emphasis throughout the day was unwillingness of the current administration to deal with the issue as well, and the need for the next president to take a strong stand on national security.

Follow Al Maurer Tweeting CPAC at @acmaurer50

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