Columns

CPAC: The Greatest Show on Earth

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

It was a freezing late January Sunday morning in 2003. Having just conducted a 6 a.m. post-op briefing for major donors to the Conservative Political Action Conference, commonly known as CPAC, a bleary-eyed and wildly hungover me had stepped outside of the Crystal Gateway Marriott for the first time in five days. Five days without fresh air messes with your head, and I immediately recognized that upon taking my first breath. 

And when I got home my wife at the time yelled at me. For doing my job. I’m pretty sure I coined the social media tag #FML that day.

This was after the following:

  • Running the conference
  • Running a board meeting (33 members at the time, all featuring majorly outsized egos)
  • Dealing with Ann Coulter (teasing you, Ann. You know I love you)
  • 3 a.m. calls from the hotel about drunk-ass college kids threatening to destroy the place
  • 3 a.m. calls from the hotel about drunk-ass ACU board members behaving badly (I put one in a chair and sent him downstairs in the elevator. Because I could)
  • Being yelled at incessantly by my boss, speakers, and unhappy attendees

But there were good moments! Among them:

  • Running the conference
  • Growing the conference (which I took from under 2,000 to 10,000 and which my successors, particularly Lisa De Pasquale took into the stratosphere, where you now find it)
  • Escorting Charlton Heston from the Reagan Dinner dais to take a piss in private “Christian. I must piss.” Seriously, he said that and I was like, “Yes, Mr. Heston! Let us piss now!”)
  • Honoring Ralph Nader and the ACLU on the anniversary of Buckley v. Valeo. (Heads did explode. “You honoring a Communist?” etc. Yeah. No. We are honoring people committed to civil liberties, thank you)
  • Hosting and honoring Benjamin Netanyahu. He was…quirky. And his wife was with him. Oy. But, man, he gave a mean speech. And he was super cool to me. Even left me a signed book!
  • Hosting the great Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Look him up.
  • Larry Kudlow and Chris Matthews around (Larry was in recovery, Chris was in unfamiliar territory) and enjoying their great receptions

And…

  • The storied Bob Novak vs. Sam Donaldson Debate. Bob would roll in before Sam, reading the newspaper, ready for serious battle. Sam would roll in and ask for coffee. A perennial favorite hosted annually by Brent Bozell, this one. We scheduled it for Sunday morning to get people out of bed.

I was the last person to serve as executive director of both the American Conservative Union and CPAC. To say the roles, particularly when combined, were bonkers crazy would be a massive understatement. It was good for the ego—people kissed my ass and bought me way too many drinks and steaks all over town because they wanted to speak at the conference—but it was hard on the psyche of a sensitive soul who had no interest, really, in ass-kissing and cocktails. Ultimately, I wanted to be a normal family man, which I was, until I moved to Washington. And then it all fell apart. Another story for another time.

Still, CPAC is a tour de force, and thanks to my incredibly gifted successors, including Carin Walters, who now runs what is a massive show, it will be so for the foreseeable future. If you are going to CPAC, and if you run into Carin or any of her committed staff, throw them a thanks. They need it more than you might know. Ain’t easy out there for…well…you know. Rhymes with “skimps.”