Behind the Scenes at CPAC, Saving Fetuses and Handing Out Lip Balm

cpac trump
With his image projected upon a huge screen, U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The enthusiasm at the Conservative Political Action Conference can be measured in many ways—from the proliferation of "Socialism Sucks" T-shirts, to the crowds packed in to hear President Trump, or even by witnessing the cheering section for Trevor Loudon, a New Zealand author who denounced the longtime alliance between Islam and Communism, something that may come as a surprise to both commissars and imams.

But the best place to gauge the heart of the movement may not be on the main stage at CPAC where icons like broadcaster Mark Levin were greeted with an unbridled vigor that echoed Paul McCartney at Shea Stadium in 1965 or where a main stage panel, "Armed and Fabulous," discussed women with firearms. Instead, the real heart of CPAC can be found a floor below the ballroom in the exhibit hall at the Gaylord National Harbor Resort and Convention Center. Here, dozens of exhibitors from various think tanks and publishers and advocacy groups promote their causes. It's an organic farmer's market of conservative thinking as you go from booth to booth, talking to folks.

Take, for example, Jack Daly: A Washington veteran, he's helping to recruit Wisconsin Sheriff David Clarke to run for the senate next year against Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin. Stop by his booth and you can enter a raffle to win an enormous Bobblehead of the goateed sheriff programmed with six canned phrases including "I don't take no crap from the left" and "the only reason I'll be reaching across the aisle is to grab someone's throat." For good measure, a prison stripe–clad Hillary Clinton Bobblehead, joins the sheriff amid an array of branded lip balm which Clarke calls Clarke-Tosterone, and has a recommended usage "For the Treatment of Low-T RINOs and GOP Eunuchs, Regrows Guts and Spines.' Unfortunately, however, it's "Ineffective for Lindsey Graham-ism."

Lip balm and Bobbleheads were on display. Matthew Cooper

Not far from Daly, there was a booth sponsored by "Europe of Nations and Freedom," a group composed of members of the European Parliament who hate the idea of the European Parliament. It includes parties like France's National Front and Austria's Freedom Party. Janice Atkinson, an independent member of the European Parliament from the United Kingdom, told me she was enthused by the success of Donald Trump in the U.S. and is encouraged by the march of anti-EU parties in Europe, speculating that the end of the EU was in sight. "If we win in France, it's all over," Atkinson said of the possible election of the National Front's Marine Le Pen this spring and the theoretical end of the EU.

But the excitement of the booths doesn't end there the Second Amendment Foundation offered a panoply of bumper stickers: "Gun Control Is a Steady Hand" and "Don't Bother Me…I'm Reloading." And the Young Americans for Freedom, one of the oldest groups at CPAC, is not to be overlooked. The group was founded by the anti-Eisenhower Right in 1960 and uses Ronald Reagan's old ranch, which they run, as one of its calling cards.

And then there's Save the Storks, a Christian ministry that sponsors 33 specially equipped mobile counseling centers designed to persuade women not to have abortions by offering sonograms and counseling. A converted Mercedes was used for its home base, in which a passerby was invited inside to relax, take a load off and enjoy heated seats. Julie Rosati, a Save the Storks board member, was once pro-choice but now works full time to help promote the group's work. Her epiphany, she told me, came after she became a Christian. Though she was originally based in New York City, she now lives upstate and firmly believes that despite the difficulty of the job at times, she prevented many abortions through her counseling.

To complete the mental picture, just a few yards away from Save the Storks were English First groups, conservative publishers with a kid's version of "Clinton Cash", a Neil Gorsuch T-shirt from America Rising, and old-school foundations like the American Enterprise Institute. As Daly told me when I spoke to him, "CPAC is great."