Steve Kelly – Contributing Writer
A week before classes let out for spring break, six members of the Dordt College Republicans club had the opportunity to attend a conference that has the reputation of being the spring break destination for conservatives.
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is an annual three-day conference in Washington, D.C., that focuses on defining conservative values and learning how to implement conservative policies. Every year, the biggest names in the conservative movement are invited to speak and policy experts lead breakout sessions about the pressing issues of the day.
Additionally, dozens of media outlets cover the conference and the messages of each individual speakers. Reporters walk the halls of the convention center looking to interview anyone in attendance. In fact, a few Dordt attendees were interviewed by The Washington Post, The Daily Signal and other news organizations.
What makes CPAC enjoyable is that one never knows who they will run into. Senators and congressmen walk freely around the convention center. Famous media personalities speak on live TV and interview anyone nearby. As an attendee, it is a thrill to walk around the convention center because one knows that at any moment he or she could cross paths with almost any one of the speakers.
In the past three years, the Dordt College Republicans have organized trips to CPAC. This year’s conference, however, was unique as, unlike in previous years, the president and vice president of the United States addressed those in attendance.
Ryan McDermott, a junior political science major, deemed Vice President Pence as his favorite speaker.
“The vice president did a tremendous job [of] providing a brief overview of the new conservative agenda in the White House and Congress while also keeping the crowd energized,” McDermott said. “At times, the crowd was louder for him than they were for President Trump.”
Not all the big names in attendance were typical politicians. One special guest had become an internet sensation when he asked a question at a presidential debate this past campaign season. His adorable red sweater and disposable camera have since captured the attention of Americans everywhere. This man, the one and only Ken Bone, was at CPAC, and everyone in our group was able to meet him.
Aaron Van Beek, a junior elementary education major, said Bone was his favorite person to meet because of how fast the man had became a sensation, and because of his red sweater. Naturally, in his appearance at CPAC Bone indeed wore the iconic red Izod sweater that made him famous.
CPAC is a great experience for young conservatives as hundreds of College Republicans from across the country attend every year. After the conference concluded each day, Dordt students would get together with other students at events sponsored by the College Republicans, providing them an opportunity to build friendships.
“My favorite part about the whole trip was connecting with college students from across the country,” Van Beek said. “I still talk to many of them even a few weeks after the conference.”
Outside the conference, the Dordt students explored Washington, D.C., visiting the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Capitol and more.
For Ryan Ruenholl, a junior engineering major, the best part of the trip was touring the Capitol Building.
“I think it is important to visit the seat of our government and understand how and where the laws that influence our everyday lives are made,” Ruenholl said.
One of the highlights of the group’s trip was when the students got to spend time on the House Speaker’s balcony overlooking the National Mall. That day proved beautiful and the view from the balcony, students felt, was phenomenal.
The whole CPAC experience provided a close-up look at the political process. Everybody in the Dordt group learned something new.
For McDermott, the most interesting part of the experience was hearing from White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, and White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus.
“Members of the president’s inner circle gave some neat insight into the daily routine of the White House and also the president’s agenda moving forward,” McDermott said.
A quote stated during a speech by Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker stood out to sophomore Kaylee Geels the most.
“He said that the government should be a trampoline for its people, not a hammock,” Geels said. “I thought that summarized my conservative views well.”
The biggest takeaway for Van Beek was seeing how many people care about issues both domestic and abroad.
“Some of the people I met live in largely populated, liberal areas that – to me – were much more conservative than Sioux County residents as we are usually seen to be,” Van Beek said.
The Dordt College Republicans plan to attend CPAC again in the future.