NATIONAL HARBOR – At recent Conservative Political Action Conferences, some attendees have joked that the gathering should be called “LPAC,” – “L” standing for libertarian. The libertarian contingent of the conference from 2009 through 2012, especially, was large, young, vocal, and noticeable.
This year there is still a strong libertarian element, but it’s certainly muted compared to past years. One Libertarian Party official told me this morning that the LP has a much smaller presence this year. Students for Liberty isn’t overwhelming the place as it did in past years.
Two driving factors, I would guess:
1) The hardline conservative stance of CPAC organizers, excluding socially liberal groups altogether.
2) The fact that Ron Paul is no longer a going concern in American politics.
It’s hard to explain how big a factor Ron Paul played in driving libertarian enthusiasm among young people. It was almost a cult of personality. His retirement for politics takes away an organizing force for young libertarians.
Still, CPAC has plenty of libertarianism. “Stand With Rand” tee shirts, with silhouettes of Sen. Rand Paul, were immensely popular this morning. The Ayn Rand Institute has a booth. Peter Schiff’s radio show is broadcasting live from radio row. Koch-sponsored entities have booths in the exhibit hall.
Libertarianism is part – or at least a partner – of conservatism, I argued from CPAC two years ago. But at this year’s CPAC, it’s a smaller part.