Conservatives grapple with the reality and permanence of “Rust Belt, Religion and Realignment,” as the GOP tent expands to include the Forgotten Man.

National Harbor, MD - The Conservative Political Action Committee, commonly known as CPAC, held its annual gathering at the Gaylord Hotel in National Harbor, MD, last week. The program was a Who’s Who of iconic conservatives, ranging from elected officials and celebrities to policy experts, journalists and talk show hosts. A walk in the hallway for refreshment yielded great dividends of photo opportunities for attendees, such as Dog, the Bounty Hunter (Duane “Dog” Chapman) and Mr. Brexit, Nigel Farage (a member of the European Parliament).


Each CPAC tends to have a theme, and this year it was “Reclaiming America’s Promise,” in other words: the promises made to the forgotten man—forgotten no more—would be kept.  Thousands of attendees flocked to CPAC and their time and money was well-spent as one after another of the President’s staff and Cabinet addressed the crowd. The conference was kicked off by Senior White House Counsel, Kellyanne Conway, suggesting that this year “CPAC would become TPAC” and ended with huge Trump supporter, Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. urging attendees to “stand and fight.”  The culmination for the audience was keynote speeches by President Donald J. Trump (who promised that he would “come back next year, and the next, and the next”) and Vice President Mike Pence. President Trump is the 2nd sitting president to address the conference since its establishment in the 1970s; the first was President Ronald Reagan.

The conference agenda included a mix of policy panels and breakout sessions, interviews, question and answer forums with elected officials and public addresses. Greenville’s own, former US Senator Jim DeMint spoke about the importance of getting the job done, now that Republicans have been given the helm. Senator Ted Cruz and “the great one” Mark Levin conversed about the Constitution and the Courts. The Senator guaranteed that Judge Neil Gorsuch would be confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice, replacing Justice Antonin Scalia.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon discussed their roles, the agenda and the President’s accomplishments in his first 30 days. Bannon set the media abuzz by saying they were working on the “deconstruction of the Administrative state,” and Priebus reminded all that “Trump brought the Party and conservative movement together” to achieve victory in November.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) had a significant presence in both the Hub (where the sponsors were) and on the stage, with speeches by Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre who bragged that many of the “forgotten men” of the election victory were NRA members, especially in the Rust Belt (the NRA endorsed Donald Trump in May, soon after he was the only candidate remaining on the GOP side). Also speaking were Dana Loesch, now a special advisor to the NRA on women’s policy, and a panel entitled “Armed and Fabulous: the New Normal” moderated by Town Hall’s Katie Pavlich.

Special appearances were made by Governor Scott Walker (he also participated on a panel with four governors proclaiming the states as the models for our democratic republic), the new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt,“Mr. Brexit” Nigel Fagare, Judge Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs, Ambassador John Bolton and actor/singer Robert Davi.

A dialogue with Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and former presidential candidate, Carly Fiorina gave a “how-to” on growing the conservative movement. As Carly said, “Most people agree with us; they just don’t know it yet.”
Policy panels were presented on national security, the Middle East, tax and welfare reform, health care, illegal immigration and judicial reform. The final panel entitled, “What Is the Trump Doctrine?: The Forgotten Man” featured Senator Rick Santorum as one of its panelists. As one might remember, Santorum unsuccessfully ran in 2012 and 2016 trying to appeal to the Forgotten Man.

Because of the results of November 8, 2016, the mood at CPAC 2017 was celebratory and almost giddy, with a new-found optimism for conservatives advancing and securing an agenda. American Conservative Union’s (ACU) chairman Matt Schlapp and the Washington Times presented the straw poll of attendees, which just reaffirmed the tone of the conference.  Some of the poll highlights (the full poll can be seen 86% of the attendees approve of the President’s job so far, and 80% believe he is realigning the conservative movement. The top two presidential campaign promises they wanted kept were tax reform and repeal/ replace Obamacare.  A distant third was to build the wall.

Although it had been almost thirty years, the Forgotten Man had once again found a champion. The first time he was an actor turned governor turned President Ronald Reagan; this time he was a businessman turned reality TV host turned President Donald Trump. Both men used the slogan “Make America Great Again,” both won the Rust Belt and the Religion vote, both sparked a Realignment of the Parties, but, most importantly, both led a movement that inspired a nation.

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Mike Scruggs