OXON HILL, Md. — These are good times to be a conservative. They control the White House and both houses of Congress and are on the verge of retaking a reliable majority on the Supreme Court. As activists gathered outside Washington this week for the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, they were still processing what it all meant. And they began facing what could be their biggest challenge yet: Figuring out how to govern after years of being in the opposition.
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Nostalgia was big inside the convention hall. Artifacts from Republican administrations — especially Ronald Reagan’s — served as reminders of the party’s past. Fast forward to the present, with “Make America Great Again” hats.
There was also Ken Bone, whose red sweater helped rocket him to Internet-meme stardom after he asked a question at one of the presidential debates.
There were remnants of conservatives’ battles past and present. The looming confirmation fight over Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, was a theme. As was the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which conservatives are still struggling with how to pull off.
Victory doesn’t mean complete unity. And some elements of the conservative movement’s rougher edges, like the “alt-right,” could not be entirely sanded down. Richard Spencer, a white nationalist, crashed the convention and had to be removed from the premises after holding an impromptu news conference.
Each year they seem to grow in numbers at CPAC: young conservatives who are more tolerant of differing social views. This year several transgender activists joined, spurred by President Trump’s decision this week to rescind protections for transgender students that allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.
Mark Gage, a libertarian from San Antonio, attended the conference dressed in a blue gown and tiara on Thursday. He said younger conservatives tended to be more accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. “They want the government to get out of their lives and their marriages,” he said.
Mr. Trump took the stage on Friday — a position he was almost denied a few years ago when he first asked CPAC if he could speak. They hotly debated whether to deny him, fearing he would use their venue only to promote himself.
He may not have been the leader many conservatives thought they would have. But like him or not, he is now the face of their movement. And how conservative a direction he ultimately takes them is a question many here were left pondering.