CPAC to highlight freedom agenda: 'Socialism does not make America great'

Matt Schlapp, who will preside over next week's Conservative Political Action Conference, says Democrats in the age of Donald Trump are “going full-in on socialism, political correctness and tossing aside all our traditions” – so expect CPAC to strike a sharp contrast by focusing on freedom and America's founding principles at the annual gathering outside Washington.

“The Democrats are flirting with this idea that the principles that founded this country are actually rotten and need to be cast aside,” Schlapp said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday.

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The embrace of big-government policies by Democratic candidates already has become a defining feature of the 2020 presidential race, and something the Trump re-election campaign has been eager to highlight. CPAC, as it’s known, will focus in part on those policies, like the Green New Deal. The annual conference of hardcore conservatives kicks off next Wednesday at National Harbor, where Schlapp said the theme will be “What Makes America Great” – a not-so-subtle play on Trump’s campaign slogan.

'Socialism does not make America great.'

— Matt Schlapp

“As conservatives who understand the founding of the country, there are very specific principles of what make America great,” said Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union. “And the thumbnail of that is socialism does not make America great. Socialism is actually completely opposed to Americanism. And that will be explained in a variety of ways throughout CPAC.”

In fact, the program kicks off Thursday with Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan and North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, two outspoken GOP members of the House Freedom Caucus, discussing the surge in socialism in America with Schlapp, organizers said.

Thousands of attendees – typically including many college-aged conservatives – gather every year for the summit. Organizers are hopeful President Trump and Vice President Pence show up, as they have in prior years, though the speeches are not yet confirmed.

“I talked with the president, he obviously loves coming to CPAC. He wants to be there,” Schlapp said.

The White House is also sending Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council and former television host for an appearance Thursday. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will also be coming from the Trump administration, a department spokesman said. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is being interviewed by journalist Vince Coglianese on stage that day, according to organizers.

Expect plenty of GOP lawmakers this year to talk about how to get conservative policies implemented amid divided government, Schlapp said. Among those expected include South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Georgia Sen. David Perdue and Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn.

“The congressional majority in the Senate and the minority in the House – they’re going through a lot of changes, and we want to hear from them on how they are going tackle a Nancy Pelosi speakership,” Schlapp said.

The gathering comes amid the rise of democratic socialists like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and 2020 Democratic presidential candidates embracing progressive causes like “Medicare-for-all.” One CPAC panel is being devoted to discussing the Green New Deal, the radical environmental plan pushed by Ocasio-Cortez.

A panel on “what makes America great” will include Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, former Trump White House official K. T. McFarland, conservative author Deneen Borelli, pro-life activist Marjorie Dannenfelser and NRA president Oliver North, as well as a panel on conservative social media activity, organizers said.

Dan Schneider, the executive director of the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC, said it’s an important time for conservatives to make a pro-freedom argument.

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“We’re going to highlight the positive aspects of different movements toward freedom, as well as warn people about how there could be a wrong directional shift in some quarters,” Schneider said. “Obviously, we’re optimistic about what we see in Venezuela, and in some European countries that are retaking their liberty…There are good stories to tell, but there are danger signs as well.”

Among topics of interest to conservatives, Schlapp expects speakers to take aim at Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, writer Andrew McCarthy and reporter Chuck Ross are scheduled to discuss Mueller’s investigation during a Saturday panel on judges and prosecutors.

“The Mueller probe gets right to this question about why America is unique,” Schlapp said. “Because the individual has very specific rights. And what conservatives fear with special counsels is those rights get trampled on. And I fear that’s what we’re seeing with the Mueller probe.”

The summit also comes amid outrage from conservatives over proposed abortion laws in states like Virginia. He said speakers will address “what the radical abortion movement is all about today.”

“We’re in barbarous times, and we’ll be talking about that on the main stage at CPAC,” Schlapp said.

Also during the summit, Dore Gold, a former Israeli diplomat, will present a history of Israel and several conservative commentators will debate the proper approach to Syria. Conservative commentators Michelle Malkin, Mark Levin, Dennis Prager and the “Diamond and Silk” duo are expected to address attendees, as is Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party.

As is tradition, the gathering will include a straw poll, which will ask people to assess the president’s performance. It will also poll the 2020 Republican primary, including possible GOP challengers to Trump. It will ask attendees who they think Democrats will nominate in the presidential race. And a new question this year asks attendees to rate the honesty of several specific media figures, organizers said.