CPAC: What is the convention Trump, Pence and Farage are speaking at and why is it so influential?

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Joe Sommerlad
·3 min read
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Young supporters cheer at the Conservative Political Action Conference (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Young supporters cheer at the Conservative Political Action Conference (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) opens on 27 February at the the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Centre in National Harbour, Maryland.

A four-day gathering of right-wing activists from across the United States, CPAC’s keynote speaker this year will be Donald Trump – his third-consecutive outing – following the president’s return from Hanoi, Vietnam, where he is meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal.

The conference was founded in 1974 by the American Conservative Union and Young Americans for Freedom and its inaugural address was given by Ronald Reagan, then California governor and a presidential candidate two years later, who used the platform to lay out his vision for the country before delegates.

It has since become a hugely influential occasion, an opportunity for American conservatives to come together to compare notes on an array of issues concerning their value system, from the Second Amendment right to bear arms to abortion.

The event has struggled to disentangle itself from the so-called “alt-right” in recent years, turning away the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos in 2016 (after initially inviting him) and neo-Nazi Richard Spencer in 2017 because of his “repugnant” white supremacist opinions. But it has host contributors from Breitbart, including the outlet’s former executive and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

CPAC has become a home to Mr Trump in that time, with attendees waving Russian flags during his speech in 2017 to mock the alllegations of electoral collusion between the Kremlin and his campaign.

Recent seminars at CPAC have had titles like “Kim Jong Un-iversity: How College Campuses are Turning into Re-education Camps”, “New Sheriff in Town: How Trump is Taking Down Lawless Government Agencies” and “An Affair to Remember: How the Far Left and the Mainstream Media Got in Bed Together”, giving a flavour of the pro-Trump sentiment being fostered from the convention floor.

It is also a stronghold for the National Rifle Association, with executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre sparking controversy last year by suggesting gun control advocates “hate freedom” little more than a week on from the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

In addition to Mr Trump, this year’s other speakers include vice president Mike Pence, ex-deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka, Britain’s Brexit poster boy Nigel Farage and adviser Raheem Kassam, plus Fox News anchors Laura Ingraham and Judge Jeanine Pirro.

Political celebrities appearing include Hollywood actor Gary Sinise, Super Bowl winner Benjamin Watson, African-American Trump campaigners Diamond and Silk and Candace Owens, an outspoken far-right commentator known for her criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement who rose to prominence when rapper Kanye West enthused about her work on Twitter.

Antonia Okafor, chief executive of EmPOWERed, a feminist gun rights organisation and Lila Grace Rose, president of anti-abortion group Live Action, are examples of representatives from single-issue pressure groups who will be taking to the stage.

From the House and Senate, CPAC 2019 will see speeches from the likes of Republican congressmen Devin Nunes, Mark Meadows, Mike Gallagher, Barry Loudermilk, Dan Crenshaw and Tom McClintock and senators Lindsey Graham, Marsha Blackburn, Josh Hawley, David Perdue, Matt Gaetz and Kevin Cramer.

Governors Scott Walker and Matt Bevin of Wisconsin and Kentucky respectively will both appear, as will ex-presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

From the right-wing press, audiences will hear: Matthew Boyle, Washington political editor for Breitbart; Marc Thiessen, author, Washington Post columnist and Fox contributor; and Saagar Enjeti and Chuck Ross from The Daily Caller.

You can see the full list of speakers at CPAC 2019 here.

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