Conservative Political Action Conference

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Conservative Political Action Conference
CPAC logo 2017.png
The official logo for CPAC 2017
DatesFebruary/March (dates vary)
Location(s)National Harbor, Maryland, U.S.
Inaugurated1973; 45 years ago (1973)
Most recentFebruary 21–24, 2018
Organized byAmerican Conservative Union

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC; /ˈspæk/ SEE-pak) is an annual political conference attended by conservative activists and elected officials from across the United States. CPAC is hosted by the American Conservative Union (ACU).[1]

In 2011, ACU took CPAC on the road with its first Regional CPAC in Orlando, Florida. Since then ACU has hosted regional CPACs in Chicago, Denver, St. Louis, and San Diego. Political front runners take the stage at this convention.


Number of CPAC attendees over time
President Ronald Reagan speaking at the 1985 CPAC
President George W. Bush speaking at the 2008 CPAC
President Donald Trump speaking at the 2017 CPAC[2]

The conference was founded in 1974 by the American Conservative Union and Young Americans for Freedom as a small gathering of dedicated conservatives.[3][4][5] Ronald Reagan gave the inaugural keynote speech at CPAC in 1974.[6] Like the conference's speakers today, the presidential hopeful used it to share his vision for the country—"A Shining City Upon A Hill," words borrowed from John Winthrop.[7]


In 2014, CPAC extended an invitation to the American Atheists, which was immediately withdrawn on the same day due to controversial statements.[8]

Richard Spencer, a figurehead of the Alt-Right and a white supremacist, entered the lobby of the Gaylord National Hotel on February 23, 2017 in an attempt to access CPAC. Organizers of the conference ejected him from the hotel as soon as his presence was discovered, citing his "repugnant [views which] ... have absolutely nothing to do with conservatism or what we do here" as cause for rejecting his admission to CPAC.[9] ACU's Executive Director Dan Schneider castigated Spencer and the alt-right in a main-stage speech, calling them "garden-variety, left-wing fascists," and saying that the alt-right "despises everything [conservatives] believe in."[10][11] Media members across the political spectrum, led by progressive journalists and opinion columnists, salvoed the intrusion as yet another attempt by hateful groups, like the alt-right, to conceal their bigotry within a legitimate philosophy. Opinion columns in The New York Times, and articles in Mother Jones and Rolling Stone voiced concern about the 2017 interview of ex-Trump Adivser Steve Bannon and ex-Trump Chief of Staff Reince Preibus with ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp, advocating for the American Right to reject the tenets of the alt-right (e.g. homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, racism, etc.).[12][13][14]

Fringe Groups at CPAC[edit]

The 2010 CPAC featured co-sponsorship for the first time from the John Birch Society and GOProud, a gay conservative group. GoProud is credited in the media for initiating talks with ACU to invite Donald Trump to speak at CPAC 2011.[15] The 2011 CPAC speech Trump gave is credited for helping kick-start his political career within the Republican Party.[16][17][18] Christopher R. Barron, co-founder of GOProud who would later not only endorse Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, but also launch LGBT for Trump, said he "would love to see Mr. Trump run for president."

For the 2012 CPAC conference, the ACU board voted to not invite GOProud or the John Birch Society to the 2012 conference.[19]

The 2015 CPAC featured Jamila Bey who became the first atheist activist to address CPAC's annual meeting.[20] The 2016 CPAC featured co-sponsorship for the first time from the Log Cabin Republicans.[21]

Milo Yiannopoulos[edit]

In December 2016, CPAC extended an invitation to conservative blogger Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at the event, despite his history of inflammatory and controversial views on feminism, racial minorities, and transgender people. The invitation was canceled when the Reagan Battalion re-posted a video of 2016 and 2015 YouTube videos[22] in which Yiannopoulos is heard making comments defending sexual relationships between adult men and 13-year-old boys, citing his own sexual experiences at that age with "Father Michael", a Catholic priest.[23]

Annual straw poll[edit]

Straw poll results at the 2015 CPAC in National Harbor, Maryland, on February 28, 2015

The annual CPAC straw poll vote traditionally serves as a barometer for the feelings of the conservative movement. During the conference, attendees are encouraged to fill out a survey that asks questions on a variety of issues. The questions regarding the most popular possible presidential candidates are the most widely reported. One component of CPAC is evaluating conservative candidates for president, and the straw poll serves generally to quantify conservative opinion.

Year Straw poll winner % of votes Second place % of votes
1976 Ronald Reagan[24][25] n/a George Wallace n/a
1980 Ronald Reagan n/a n/a n/a
1984 Ronald Reagan n/a n/a n/a
1986 Jack Kemp[26][27] n/a George H. W. Bush n/a
1987 Jack Kemp[28] 68 Pat Buchanan 9
1993 Jack Kemp[29] n/a n/a n/a
1995 Phil Gramm[30] 40 Bob Dole 12
1998 Steve Forbes[31] 23 George W. Bush 10
1999 Gary Bauer[32][33] 28 George W. Bush 24
2000 George W. Bush[34] 42 Alan Keyes 23
2005 Rudy Giuliani[35] 19 Condoleezza Rice 18
2006 George Allen[36] 22 John McCain 20
2007 Mitt Romney[36] 21 Rudy Giuliani 17
2008 Mitt Romney[36] 35 John McCain 34
2009 Mitt Romney[36][37] 20 Bobby Jindal 14
2010 Ron Paul[36][38] 31 Mitt Romney 22
2011 Ron Paul[39] 30 Mitt Romney 23
2012 Mitt Romney[40] 38 Rick Santorum 31
2013 Rand Paul[41] 25 Marco Rubio 23
2014 Rand Paul[42] 31 Ted Cruz 11
2015 Rand Paul 26 Scott Walker 21
2016 Ted Cruz 40 Marco Rubio 30

Overall, Mitt Romney holds the record of winning more CPAC straw polls than any other individual, with four. Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and Rand Paul follow with three consecutive wins each, followed by Ron Paul with two wins. Of these five, the Pauls are the only two to win more than one straw poll, yet never appear on a Republican presidential ticket in any election (although Ron Paul did receive one Electoral College vote in 2016).[43]


Since 2007, the Jeane Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award has been presented at CPAC in memory of Jeane Kirkpatrick. The award is sponsored by the Bradley Foundation, and its first recipient was Matt Sanchez.[44][45] In 2010, the Ronald Reagan Award was given to the Tea Party movement, which marked the first time it was ever given to a group instead of an individual.[46]


  1. ^ "CPAC 2015 Straw Poll: Rand Paul wins again – but Scott Walker is surging". The Washington Times. February 28, 2015. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  2. ^ Guardian Wires (February 24, 2017). "Donald Trump addresses CPAC 2017 – live". Retrieved July 7, 2017 – via YouTube.
  3. ^ Diamond, Sara (1995) [1995]. Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (2 ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press. pp. 128, 138, 146, 198, 210, 212, 285, 289, 327. ISBN 0-89862-862-8.
  4. ^ Wilcox, Derk Arend (2000). The Right Guide: A Guide to Conservative, Free-Market, and Right-of-Center Organizations. United States of America: Economics America, Inc. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-914169-06-2.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Atheists Invited, Then Uninvited, to CPAC". Political Outcast. February 26, 2014. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  9. ^
  10. ^ "A Top Conservative Said the Alt-Right Are Actually 'Left-Wing Fascists'". Time. Retrieved January 7, 2018.
  11. ^ Weigel, David; Wagner, John (February 23, 2017). "Alt-right leader expelled from CPAC after organizer denounces 'fascist group'". Retrieved January 7, 2018 – via
  12. ^ "Conservatives can't figure out whether to embrace or denounce the alt-right". Mother Jones. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  13. ^ "CPAC's Flirtation With the Alt-Right Is Turning Awkward". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  14. ^ Williamson, Elizabeth (February 24, 2017). "Big Tent or Circus Tent? A Conservative Identity Crisis in the Trump Era". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  15. ^
  16. ^ "GOProud Leads 'Trump In 2012' Movement At CPAC - Towleroad". February 10, 2011. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  17. ^ "Gay GOProud Founder Chris Barron Launches Loathsome 'LGBT for Trump' Campaign: WATCH - Towleroad". June 15, 2016. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  18. ^ Correspondent, Chris Moody, CNN Senior Digital. "How gay conservatives helped launch Donald Trump". CNN. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  19. ^ "GOProud and Birchers ousted as CPAC co-sponsors (David Horowitz survives vote)". The Daily Caller. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  20. ^ "In a first, atheist activist addresses conservative conference". The Washington Post. December 14, 2012. Retrieved February 28, 2015.
  21. ^ "'Smooth sailing' for gay Republicans at CPAC". March 4, 2016. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  22. ^ Ohlheiser, Abby; Ohlheiser, Abby (February 21, 2017). "The 96 hours that brought down Milo Yiannopoulos" – via The Washington Post.
  23. ^ Hartmann, Margaret. "CPAC Blasted for Milo Yiannopoulos Invite After Pedophilia Remarks Resurface". New York Magazine. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  24. ^ "Conservatives drop third party idea, attempt to win nomination for Reagan",
  25. ^ "Conservatives abandon talk of a third party, throw their support behind Reagan". The Associated Press. February 16, 1976. Retrieved November 9, 2010.
  26. ^ "President Is 'Saving Best Stuff for Last Act'",
  27. ^ Gailey, Phil (February 1, 1986). "G.O.P. Strategists Clash Over a Presidential Poll". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331
  28. ^ "President Is 'Saving Best Stuff for Last Act'",
  29. ^ "Republican Right Wing Gathers To Bash Clinton, Look to 1996 Conservatives meet in record numbers to find that there is life – and echoes of past unity – after the presidency". The Christian Science Monitor. February 22, 1993. ISSN 0882-7729.
  30. ^ "Gramm gets support in conservative straw poll",, February 12, 1995
  31. ^ "Forbes tops Bush in presidential straw poll of conservatives; Buchanan, Gingrich tie for third",, February 1, 1998
  32. ^ Neal, Terry M. (January 31, 1999). "Bauer Planning Steps for Presidential Bid". Washington DC: Washington Post Company. p. A2. Retrieved November 6, 2010.
  33. ^ "Conservative activist Bauer runs for president". Life Advocate. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
  34. ^ "Bush wins conservative poll; Forbes supporters impressed; Governor wins 42 percent, Keyes second at 23 percent". Washington Post Company. January 23, 2000. Retrieved November 6, 2010.
  35. ^ "Bracing for the worst". The Washington Times. February 23, 2005. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
  36. ^ a b c d e Danielle Kurtzleben (February 11, 2011). "CPAC Straw Poll Not Predictive of Eventual Nominee". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  37. ^ Sam Stein (March 31, 2009). "Romney Wins CPAC Poll, Palin Tied For Third". Huffington Post. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  38. ^ Brenda Shepard; Mark Murray (February 21, 2010). "Ron Paul wins CPAC straw poll". NBC News. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  39. ^ Michael Falcone (February 12, 2011). "Ron Paul Wins 2011 CPAC Straw Poll, Sarah Palin Finishes a Distant 9th Place". ABC News. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  40. ^ Josh Lederman (February 12, 2012). "Santorum suggests Romney rigged CPAC straw poll victory". The Hill. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  41. ^ Stephen Dinan; David Sherfinski (March 16, 2013). "Rand Paul wins The Washington Times-CPAC 2013 Straw Poll". Washington Times. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  42. ^ James Hohmann (March 8, 2014). "A Rand Paul rout in CPAC straw poll". Politico. Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  43. ^ Patrick Svitek (January 9, 2017). "Rogue Texas elector explains decision to back Ron Paul". The Texas Tribune.
  44. ^ Glauber, Bill (2017-02-24). "Suspended professor John McAdams to receive award at CPAC". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 2017-10-23.
  45. ^ Blumenthal, Max (2009-09-01). Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. PublicAffairs. p. 191. ISBN 9780786750443.
  46. ^ "The Unbearable Whiteness of CPAC". Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. March 21, 2014.

External links[edit]

Media related to Conservative Political Action Conference at Wikimedia Commons