In Defense of Donald Trump at CPAC

Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP
Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP

A few weeks ago, I wrote about “political punks”–people like Andrew Breitbart, Greg Gutfeld, Clint Eastwood, Ann Coulter, and Gavin McInnis, who buck the cultural left and political right. Of course, there are several people I neglected to list in the column, as many commenters reminded me. (Hi, Sabo fans!)

Being a political punk isn’t about picking the most popular person on the right (as if that could be done). In fact, I’d argue that real punks probably wouldn’t even want to be lumped in with the Mos Eisley Cantina that is our movement.

As the CPAC director from 2006-2011, I know more than anyone that CPAC wouldn’t be CPAC without controversy. Every year there was some speaker who should or shouldn’t be invited. This year people were once again maddened by the announcement that Donald Trump will be speaking at CPAC.

The most common criticism I hear about Trump is that he’s a “show boater” and is attending CPAC just for the media attention. Without mentioning any names, how is he different from the majority of stand alone speakers at most political conferences? Our movement is full of show boaters who flirt with running for office or who use CPAC to make a joke that offends a handful of people while getting wild applause from the audience. Let the left be the crybabies. I’ll take the political punks who embrace freedom, not a constant state of outrage.

Trump first spoke at CPAC in 2011, and I had the pleasure of introducing him to the audience. Here’s an interesting piece of CPAC trivia: Because we wanted to give as many new faces as possible the opportunity to be on the CPAC stage, a local, little-known Texas politician introduced me. He’s now Senator Ted Cruz. (For more inside scoop on CPAC, check out my book, Finding Mr. Righteous.)

The Washington Post wrote about Trump’s first appearance at CPAC:

 “This is the largest crowd we have ever had in eager anticipation of our next speaker!” Lisa De Pasquale, director of the Conservative Political Action Conference, told the annual gathering last week. “We have overflow rooms filled! This ballroom filled!”

The reason for this eager anticipation, and for the whoops and hollers from the crowd: “someone who is thinking about tossing his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.”

The sound system played the theme from NBC’s “The Apprentice.” A puff of orange hair appeared on the stage, and somewhere underneath it was the billionaire Donald Trump, giving a flirtatious, finger-wiggling wave to the crowd.

“You’re hired!” a woman in the front called out to him.

Basking in the adulation, Trump announced: “These are my people!”

Given his statement that “these are my people,” there is one key reason why I must defend Donald Trump. CPAC 2011 was tumultuous because GOProud, an organization for gay conservatives and their allies, was allowed to be one of over 150 participating organizations. There were calls for boycotts (mostly by groups that had never sponsored CPAC) and a few speakers who decided to decline their invitation because of GOProud’s inclusion. Not only did Trump come to a conference that many in the mainstream media consider to be part of a “fringe” movement, but he came at the invitation of GOProud.

Andrew Breitbart fans may recall that CPAC 2011 was the year he and GOProud hosted their “Big Gay Party,” with entertainment by Sophie B. Hawkins. There were board members who wanted me to figure out a way to block the party from happening. They were the same ones ginning up the fake boycotts and telling people not to accept speaking invitations. I felt like I was in Batman Begins watching the board of Wayne Enterprises take down the company from the inside. Many of those people are no longer on the ACU/CPAC board, which makes it all the more disappointing that a group like Log Cabin Republicans (GOProud no longer exists) are still not allowed to fully participate in CPAC. As former UN Ambassador spokesperson Ric Grenell said, “You win an election by adding people, not subtracting.”

But despite the myriad of reasons Trump could have declined the invitation to speak at CPAC, he came, and he stood on stage and in front of hundreds of reporters and proclaimed, “These are my people.”

For that, Donald Trump will always have my respect.

Watch his CPAC 2011 speech here:


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