The halls of the Conservative Political Action Conference were not humming with the excitement of liberty as it has been in years past.
The Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015 was as close to a libertarian dream as the conference has ever come.
Enthusiastic young libertarians, optimistic that liberty would prevail in the 2016 election, proudly sported their Stand With Rand shirts draped in pro-liberty stickers and pins.
Panels were presented incorporating libertarian ideas, such as the Privacy versus Security debate with Judge Andrew Napolitano and The Red Pill or The Blue Pill? A Debate on Marijuana Legalization with Governor Gary Johnson.
“It was amazing to see conservatives and libertarians coalescing at the conference last year,” said West Chester University of Pennsylvania student Bri Jamshidi, a three-time CPAC attendee.
But where were all the libertarians at CPAC this year?
Last year, libertarian speakers, panels, and attendees seemed to be a focal point at the conference. Attendees couldn’t miss the negative boo’s at references to American foreign intervention or the walk-out during speakers such as Jeb Bush.
Several panels were dedicated to conversations on liberty-related topics such as criminal justice reform, intellectual property rights, and digital currency. An environment was finally created at CPAC that welcomed those who were not socially conservative and held the virtues of liberty as their top priority.
But those virtues took a backseat this year to a more conservative and election focused conference.
Josh Guckert, Columnist at The Libertarian Republic, noted the shift away from libertarianism.
“Last year’s conference offered a lot of hope for libertarians: Rand Paul, Andrew Napolitano and Gary Johnson were all featured in prime speaking spots, and a certain skepticism about government entanglement domestically and abroad was pervasive,” Guckert said.
He continued, “This year was quite the contrary: Paul and Napolitano did not attend, while Johnson was relegated to smaller, less promoted panels. Even the straw poll questions shied away from the libertarian-friendly topics of last year, like foreign intervention and marijuana legalization.”
The 2016 CPAC Straw Poll focused more on feelings towards the Republican Party and Obamacare.
Eugene Craig, Chairman of the Young Minority Republicans Fund, observed the difference in energy and attitudes towards liberty this year.
“The biggest applause line during the I Walk the Line: Reforming the Criminal Justice System panel was from Sheriff David Clarke Jr. saying criminal justice and sentencing reform is a farce of the left and progressives. This tells you all you need to know about CPAC this year and the absence of liberty voices.”
The lack of libertarian attendees took some by surprise. “Last year, it seemed like I met more libertarians,” said Ben Fuller, a student at Binghamton University. “I think because it’s an election year, the more conservative crowd was drawn out to the conference.”
One difference between this year’s conference and years past was the involvement of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) recruiting libertarian students to CPAC. According to their website, “Young Americans for Liberty is the largest, most active, and fastest-growing pro-liberty organization on America’s college campuses.”
In 2014 and 2015, YAL made a strong push to get more libertarians to the conference. Thanks to their generous donors, YAL was able to help subsidize tickets for YAL members to attend the conference. This drew nearly 1,000 libertarian students to the conference just in 2015. What changed this year? Liberty Conservatives Magazine reached out to Young Americans for Liberty for a statement about their presence at CPAC this year:
Although CPAC was lacking a strong libertarian presence this year, libertarians shouldn’t fear that they don’t have a place in conservative circles, especially at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Liberty resonates with both conservatives and libertarians. Continual CPAC attendees have faith that liberty will make a comeback in the following years.