NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Many young conservatives who were at CPAC want more attention paid to fiscal rather than social issues – a fact not only emphasized by some of the straw poll questions but by the opinions expressed by many of the participants at the three-day conference.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), one of the conference’s most popular speakers and winner of CPAC’s straw poll, urged Republican leaders on the event’s first day to pay attention to the “Facebook generation.”
“They doubt Social Security will be there for them, they worry about jobs and rent and money and student loans. … They aren’t afraid of individual liberty,” said Paul.
“Ask the Facebook generation if we should put a kid in jail for the non-violent crime of drug use and you’ll hear a resounding ‘no.’ Ask the Facebook generation if they want to bail out too big to fail banks with their hard-earned tax dollars and you’ll hear a ‘hell no,’” he continued.
Former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the senator’s father and a staunch supporter of individual liberty, won the 2010 and 2011 straw polls, but never successfully competed for the Republican nomination.
Many organizations that promote individual liberty took part in the conference. The Competitive Enterprise Institute hosted a gay-rights panel. Students for Liberty, a libertarian nonprofit, had a booth at the event and its founder, Alexander McCobin, participated in a panel alongside Jeff Frazee, the executive director of Young Americans for Liberty – another libertarian-leaning organization.
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, commended Sen. Paul for his filibuster earlier in the week and said, “I for one applaud this new generation of liberty-minded Republicans.”
Not all participants equated the increasing support for individual liberty at the event with support for certain social issues, such as gay rights.
Evelyn Weinstein, a student from the state of New York, told PJ Washington about her confrontation with another participant over her support for gay rights.
“I’m a fiscal conservative, I believe in individual rights and small government, and I’m standing here being called a liberal because I support gay marriage,” said Weinstein. “If there’s a future for the conservative movement, it will have to be one that supports gay rights, especially with my generation – it is do or die for us.”
Weinstein – along with other young conservatives – filled a room at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, the site of this year’s gathering, to hear a panel voice the need for tolerance within the Republican Party.
The panel happened a day before Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced his reversal on gay marriage after his son told him he was gay.
“[I want] him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have—to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years,” he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Friday.
“I don’t have a problem with gay marriage,” said Ben Dorchester, an attendee from Pennsylvania. “I see why so many conservatives disagree with it and they’re entitled to their opinion.”
Dorchester said he would support a Republican Party candidate that embraces gay marriage because he does not “believe conservatism is a take-it-all movement. Many people may disagree on several issues and still agree on core conservative values.”
The dueling opinions on social matters played out in the straw poll when attendees were asked about their personal core beliefs. Only 15 percent of CPAC voters said their most important goal was to promote traditional values by protecting traditional marriage and protecting the lives of the unborn, compared to 77 percent who voted as their most important goal the promotion of individual freedom by reducing the size and scope of government and its intrusion into the lives of citizens.
Not surprisingly, however, opinions among participants seemed to be split along different age groups.
The polling demographics included 44 percent “individual” registrants and 41 percent “student” registrants, with the majority (52 percent) composed of people between the ages of 18-25, closely followed by the participants between 26-40 years of age with 20 percent of the total respondents. The voters were also primarily male, comprising 66 percent of the vote compared to 34 percent female voters.
“I’m not as hardened about social conservatism,” said Ryan Corcoran, a freshman at William & Mary. “I think there’s a future for a GOP that accepts gays; I just don’t know how soon.”
Speaking about the ACU’s refusal to allow GOProud as an official sponsor for CPAC, he said, “I understand why [CPAC] would like to exclude [GOProud], but I don’t think it is the right move. All speakers here have talked about widening the conservative movement and [what] they did was to exclude people.”
Others, however, do not anticipate a Republican Party in the near future that can promote both traditional values and individual liberty.
“I don’t see a Republican Party in the future that supports gay marriage. It’s too much of a faith-based issue,” said Denise Yeagel of Richmond, Va. “I’m fine with a gay conservative group in the conference. The issue is marriage, but I think the issue of redefining marriage is untouchable.”
At a panel on Friday, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) defended his position on gay marriage when questioned about Portman’s decision, saying “just because someone changes their mind doesn’t mean anything is changed.”
“I don’t personally agree with gay marriage for religious reasons, but I also don’t agree with people imposing their beliefs on others,” said Paul Roberts, a real estate agent from Georgia. “There are many other issues that I oppose because of my religious background, and yet I don’t think the majority has the right to impose their views on the lives of others.”