Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to represent The Liberty Block at the 2020 Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC). As a Libertarian in MAGA land, I thought I’d share my experiences with my fellow libertarians so that they can better decide if this is an event that might interest them in the future.
There is no better networking event to meet people from across the country (and some from outside it) who share a certain set of core values, and to engage in healthy debate with everyone from your common attendee to some fairly “big name” political celebrities, including Gavin McInnes (who got thrown out), Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Senator Ted Cruz, Turning Point USA Founder Charlie Kirk, nearly every conservative media outlet and host you can think of, and even representatives from The Daily Show and Vox. The unbridled access regular attendees had to media row allowed for direct, face-to-face conversations with the proverbial “stars” of conservatism (and politics in general) in a way you just won’t find at any other event. There were a number of smaller panels in more intimate settings which allowed for audience Q + A, and this – at times – led to a healthy debate on a number of topics, and direct access to aforementioned “celebrities”. Fan-boys will be able to eat their hearts out, and will find the trip worth the effort and cost (more on that later) on this factor alone.
The networking, of course, was not limited to political “celebrities”. I ran into some friends at the event that I had not yet had the chance to meet (including Liberty Block contributing author Conner Drigotas) and made a number of new ones I would never have otherwise met (stay tuned for more on that). The event is such a great way to meet new people and make new business connections – and I cannot hyperbolize how great the event is for making business connections – that it has gained a sort of playful notoriety for being a place where people come to specifically meet people to date (yes, there are conservative women, fellas!). There was even a booth at the exhibition hall for a match-making company looking to capitalize on this effect.
What was somewhat surprising was the number of Libertarians (big and small “L”) at the event; folks who voted for Gary Johnson in 2016 and Larry Sharpe in 2018. It seemed the more I pried at attendees’ political inclinations, the more ready they were to reveal themselves as Libertarians, ready to view our President through the honest lens of “Good Trump, Bad Trump.” This was refreshing for a member of a very minority movement to see that there are far more of us out there than people likely realize.
The short version is that if you take the event as a way to meet people and plainly avoid the speaking events, you won’t find a better place to find like-minded people, and, if you’re considering going – and you aren’t just a fan-boy of various political “celebrities” – this is the reason to go.
It would be impossible to talk about going to CPAC without talking about the cost: expect to pay Yankee Stadium food prices; expect to pay at least $20.00 a day in parking; expect to be dumped on with hawking; expect to pay a colossal premium (read: hundreds, if not thousands of dollars) for exclusive events and seating; entry prices started at $330.00 a head; and the place is located in National Harbor, which means a very long, one-way-in and one-way-out if you’re not going to stay in the Harbor, where hotel fees bottomed out at roughly $300.00 a night.
That said, I did manage to find a wonderful Airbnb just outside the Harbor, and Uber-ing in was only $6-7 from where I stayed, and everything I ate and drank was 5-star quality. All things you should probably expect from the extravagantly luxurious Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center where the event was held. As an aside, this was without a doubt the most posh “hotel” I’ve ever even been in, and rivals the resorts on The Strip in Las Vegas in its luxury and accommodations.
It would also be impossible to honestly review my experience at CPAC 2020 without mentioning two words that are going to spark controversy: Echo Chamber. As much as it was a breath of fresh air to see so many Libertarians under one roof, the air was otherwise dominated by a fanatical, unconditional fealty to President Trump, and an overt rejection of criticism of the “Trumpian” politic.
Even the smaller panels included zero dissenting opinion, and only resulted in actual debate when push-back came from the audience themselves. Most of the main-stage speakers did little more than pander to a crowd who was already won over the moment the speaker took the stage, and no new information or ideas were brought to the fore other than to pat each other’s backs. If you go looking to debate a leftist or challenge a MAGA fan-boy, or see a “Shapiro Destroys” moment in real-time, you’ll find your time wasted.
The final note on the “bad” has to note the one-way-in-one-way-out nature of the location. When Vice President Mike Pence and President Trump arrived, the place went on lock-down, which meant preposterously long lines and a complete shut-down of the event outside of the main stage, with security reaching airport levels for hours at a time. My recommendation would be to go across the street (on foot) to one of the local restaurants/bars with your friends, or to just hop in the car and use the time to tour DC.
I had a blast. I got some early advice on the first day from some insiders who had worked the event since its inception, and was able to refocus my energies into meeting new people; the nightlife being positively ideal for this effort. If you’re a MAGA fan-boy, you won’t have to do this, as everything there is going to cater to your every whim. If you’re a significantly more grounded attendee, skip the speeches, meet new people, spend a ton of time at the exhibition hall, genuinely talk to the vendors (all of them), and stay for drinks afterward, and accept the fact that you’re going to rack up a bill (so save up in advance).
The only major mistake I made was going alone; bring as many people as you can, stay together, and you’ll be far better able to both make new connections and improve the ones you already have despite the cost. Libertarians can enjoy this event, and I’ll be going back in 2021 for sure. If the expense is something that worries you, then save up, take the advice I’ve offered, and remember that Disneyland is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, and that’s how you should treat this. And, for the love of God, leave the kids at home!