A unified conservative front was nowhere to be found at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year.
While standing in the two-hour line to get into the ballroom on Friday, I watched as a young woman was introducing herself to a group of students. The students wore “Dump Trump” pins on their CPAC lanyards and were vocal about their dislike of the candidate.
Hesitantly, the young woman wove into the conversation a question that seemed to be lingering on her mind for a while: “Would you guys consider being friends with someone who supports Donald Trump?” She was a Trump supporter, and it was obvious she had been receiving the cold shoulder for it all day.
The environment at CPAC this year was hostile.
Watching the GOP debate with hundreds of other conservatives exemplified the divide felt at this year’s conference. While your expected cheers and applause were heard after most candidates spoke, there were notable exceptions.
At the beginning of the evening, Fox News Host Sean Hannity tried to unify the crowd. He urged the audience to coalesce behind who ever became the GOP nominee, going so far asking those in the audience to stand and pledge their allegiance to the party’s nominee. High fives and fist bumps were shared between those who refused to submit to a vote for Donald Trump.
One young man, for the first several minutes of the GOP debate, stood while Donald Trump spoke with his middle fingers raised in the air. Others booed Trumps responses and started unsuccessful drunken “Dump Trump” chants.
One Trump supporter stood after several Trump responses, glass raised in the air, cheering at the top of her lungs. The faces of those around her were entertaining, and turned from slightly amused to downright annoyed after several minutes. Some around her got up and left, shaking their heads as they walked away.
Other candidates received hostility from the audience as well. When Senator Rick Santorum came on stage as a Marco Rubio spokesmen, several audience members chanted “gang of eight” and “fake conservative” at him, attempting to drown out Santorum’s speech. When John Kasich spoke, it appeared to be the prime time to check your twitter or start a side conversation with your neighbor… usually about how boring Kasich was.
While strolling the sponsors area, a Donald Trump cardboard cutout flopped over in half. I overheard an attendee say, “See that… a flop. Just like him.” A Trump supporter quickly rushed over and propped cardboard Trump back up with a smile.
There was no such thing as a unified conservative front at CPAC this year.