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CPAC 2013: Long on Ideas, Short on Direction

Posted: March 16, 2013 at 7:00 am   /   by

Notes from CPAC 2013, Gaylord Convention Center, National Harbor, MD
Christopher Cook—Western Free Press 

A Conservative Political Action Conference following a difficult (and for some, unexpected) defeat in an election is bound to be a little more unfocused and even contentious. This is natural. Such a defeat causes movements and political parties to reexamine their approaches, their messaging, and even their ideas. This is to be expected.

And, as such, CPAC 2013 is just about what one would expect. The different factions that make up the right have their own views on what the movement’s direction should be. There is less of a feeling of unity, and more of a feeling of searching.

And guess what—that’s okay. This is 2013. In terms of election cycles, it’s as “off” as an off-year can be. This is precisely the time for the movement to do its soul-searching. There have been speeches calling for unity, speeches from men who are almost certainly positioning themselves for presidential bids, and speeches honestly addressing the need for the GOP and the movement to find a direction and footing again. All of this is to be expected. All of this is needed. All of this is good.

Yes, it would be nice if this year’s CPAC felt more united and energetic—like a group of people all walking purposively in the same direction, rather than a group of people milling about wondering what to do next. I have heard the feeling described as “the first family dinner following a messy divorce,” and while that is an evocative and not entirely inaccurate analogy, it’s really not that bad. CPAC 2013 merely reflects the realities on the ground:

  • We’ve lost two presidential elections in a row, both with moderate candidates on our ticket. This has created tension and displeasure among the base with the establishment.
  • Libertarian ideology and ideas are definitely ascendant within the movement, and core assumptions of the conservative movement (defense, marriage, drug war, and even the death penalty) are being questioned in ways they haven’t in a long time.
  • Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are both front-runners for movement leaders and for 2016. Some see them as rivals, other see them as a lot closer in ideology than some controvery-mongers in new and old media would have us believe.
  • Immigration is a hot topic.
  • Chris Christie, Pam Geller, and Robert Spencer not being invited  (in the latter’s case, being disinvited) are topics of discussion at the many water coolers scattered around the Gaylord.

None of this, with the possible exception of the last item, is much of a surprise. And none of it changes the salient fact that the country is reeling under the effects of Obama-style statism, and the entitlement-driven debt crisis still looms. Someone, some movement, is going to need to arise to change the nation’s direction, and soon, or America is going to be in seriously dire straits.

The movement of the right, writ large, remains the only movement that can do that.

The ideology of the right—properly understood as the classical-liberal, Enlightenment-based, libertarian/conservative movement given political life by the American War of Independence—is the only truly revolutionary political movement in human history. All the other movements—from the ancient despotisms and monarchies that reigned for the millennia of human history before the 19th century to the many flavors of modern statism that ruled our lives in the 20th—were just different forms of oppression. There are a thousand ways for governments to oppress people, but only one way for government to allow them be free. That pathways runs straight through the halls of the ideology of the American right.

And the ideas, policy conceptions, and philosophies that form that edifice are all in evidence here at CPAC 2013. The movement hasn’t found a unified political direction yet, but it will. And in the meantime, it is clear that the only viable answer for America’s current troubles—and for the question of human freedom, writ large—lies with us. It always has.

See you in 2014, statists!



Christopher Cook

Christopher Cook

Managing Editor at Western Free Press
Christopher Cook is a writer, editor, and political commentator. He is the president of Castleraine, Inc., a consulting firm providing a diverse array of services to corporate, public policy, and not-for-profit clients.

Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including (now a part of Western Free Press) and He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to
Christopher Cook

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CPAC 2013: Long on Ideas, Short on Direction