I had heard all the rumors. The rumbling and grumbling. Yet because of my friend and co-hosts encouragement against all my natural instincts. I went to CPAC this year. For those of you unfamiliar with the term it refers to the annual conference put on by the American Conservative Union. It's the largest gathering of "right leaning" people in the country.
A short history. I attended a CPAC event here in Richmond several years ago, and left the building convinced the "CPAC Crowd" was not for me. I was unimpressed with the faux display of "bi-partisan" conservatism. Even then I had lost faith (no pun intended) in our ability to win future elections because of the growing "Social Conservative" single issue voter. They confirmed all the stereotypes in just a few hours and I vowed to never bother to attend one of their events again.
This is why although I've been semi-Politically active and all over Social Media, I've avoided CPAC previously, and to be honest... all of the "Conservative -Cons". However, my friend and co-host Jim Geraghty convinced me to give it another shot. A "no thank you, bite" as he would say. To say I had mixed emotions going into this whole thing is what we like to call a Huge Understatement.
On one hand I was thrilled to finally meet so many of my Twitter Peeps and other "online" friends. On the other hand what if I ended up surrounded by the Santorum Wing of the party? Nerves & excitement made me think of grabbing a Xanax more than once.
Jim and I taped a podcast earlier in the week and once again he assured me that the people that I would encounter at CPAC would not all be chanting "Run Ben Run" at me every 20 minutes. We even did a Pre-CPAC segment on this weeks' #TJAMS podcast.
Other veterans had given me great advice about what to pack, where to eat and what to expect. So I thought I was ready.
I was so wrong. "In all the Right ways", as Pink would say.
As I attempt to convey to you the whirl wind that was my first CPAC, just know I'm probably still not doing it justice.
From the moment I arrived I was welcome with open arms (and an occasional tackle) by friends that I felt like I had known for years, even though it was the first time we had ever met in person. Realizing I actually talk to most of these Peeps every day on Twitter. It was a bizarro world family reunion with people You actually like. Hugs and Kisses..."So good to meet you"... then right into what we were talking about yesterday. The drinks were flowing and all of my fears melted away.
As for the CPAC conference part. I got to see all of the 2016 Candidates, if only for a few minutes, which was a cool experience. If you've any interest in right of center politics, I highly recommend making an effort to attend. There are the major speakers.
Then there are a zillion (rough estimate) break out sessions and debates on every issue you can possibly imagine. What ever your "Hot Button Issue" is... they've got some thing for you, education, entertainment, literally whatever you are into. It's kind of amazing just how much is going on all the time. Think Vegas without the Hookers.
Of course, I checked in on the Medical Marijuana debate. Of note, Gary Johnson was getting all the applause from a crowd that was building to hear Scott Walker. So take that for what it's worth.
One huge highlight for most of the crowd and all of "men" of a certain age was the appearance of a few of "The Avengers". Captain American and Iron Man told me that it could take a Super Hero to save the Country. I believed them. Then "Voltron" a/k/a Govtron reminded me of all that is wrong with big government, after my friend Neal explained who Voltron was to me. (Thank God for Boys!)
Sabo, the controversial artist who created the image of Ted Cruz in "prison tatts" was also there, signing posters and making people uncomfortable with some of his wardrobe choices. I'll give him this. Hell of a self promoter that one. He knows how to get people talking about him without spending a dollar in promotions.
Spent a little time on air hosting some live coverage for The 405 Radio with my friend Katie which ended up being a nice preview of what my dream job on Hoda & Kathy Lee would be like.
The evening were filled with parties from all types of organizations and groups. There are no "cool kids" at CPAC there is literally a Party filled with "your people" going on somewhere. Because of some fabulous "Twitter Friends", I was invited to attend some incredible Bash-es, where I was able to meet even more really good people.
Just when I thought it couldn't get better, I get a text from Geraghty asking if I would go to the Reagan Reception and Dinner as Mrs. Campaign Spot wasn't able to get a sitter on such short notice. He had just been invited to attend and needed a +1. How could I say no? More importantly... Why would I?
So all other plans get tossed aside, and I get all dolled up to attend the Reagan Reception, where I meet an entirely different crowd than I'd been exposed to... a little more upscale and invested. To my delight they were just as welcoming and warm as all of the others I had met.
With all the pomp and circumstance that you would expect at a gala named after Reagan himself, it was an impressive dinner and line up... it was also where they gave out many of the ACU Awards. Just as dinner was finishing up, (I had the braised beef) they began the awards ceremony.
The first award of the night was for "Journalist of the Year", the person who the voters of the ACU have chosen to honor for their integrity, hard work and real investigative reporting. As Carly Fiorina began the introduction, it became clear she was talking about the Man sitting next to me, my friend, my co-host, Jim Geraghty. As he took the stage to accept this well deserved but significant honor, it was one of the more surreal moments in my life. (And that is saying a lot)
The crowd got choked up along with him as he thanked his family, talked of his boys and paid an emotional tribute to Andrew Breitbart. Even in the spotlight it's Jim's nature to give credit to others. One of the many things that makes him one of the most kind and caring people I've ever met. I couldn't have been more proud or more completely stunned.
After that we gathered with more friends who celebrated Jim's victory long into the night. At some point he looked around, surveying the variety and genuine love in the room, said, "We are good people." I couldn't agree more.
Thank you to everyone who made this experience one I will never forget.
I don't know how any future CPAC experience could compare with the wild and wonderful events of this my first time... but I look forward to finding out.