Analysis Sexuality

CPAC Come-Ons: Sexual Culture at the Nation’s Largest Conservative Conference

Emily Crockett

One university student CPAC attendee said that there is definitely “a culture of a bunch of creepy guys” at the conference—young guys, he clarified. “Everybody knows that guy who swings by and puts his arm around the girl who wants nothing to do with him.”

Read more of our coverage on the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference here.

At this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), reporter Jamelle Bouie witnessed (and live-tweeted) a painfully awkward attempt at young conservative romance:





The mind-boggling combination of prudery, frustrated sexual entitlement, and slut-shaming got me thinking: Does this kind of thing happen to a lot of young women at CPAC? What’s the sexual culture like at this heady three-day event, where busloads of college students enjoy subsidized registration prices, the company of gaggles of like-minded peers, and a constant tension between socially conservative and libertarian values?

When I asked University of Virginia students Amy McMahon and Abigail Welborn whether they’d been hit on at CPAC, the first response was giggles of recognition; of course they had been.

“At night, going out, there’s a lot of characters,” Welborn said.

“Our party has more men than women, by far, so the ratio’s kind of skewed a little bit,” McMahon said.

Welborn recalled a conversation with a “random guy” who wasn’t hitting on her, but who said, “’Oh yeah, I’m gonna hook up with five women.’ And I was like, whoa. That’s not what I thought of when I came to CPAC. I thought, politics, opportunity!”

A group of young women from Westchester, Pennsylvania, who asked to remain anonymous said that the guys in their group had been “talking about girls non-stop,” as one put it. “They’ll be like, ‘did you see that one there?’ and point one out.” Another young woman in that group said she had gotten a lot of creepy comments from older men about her curly, bright red hair.

Patrick Moran of the University of Albany said that there is definitely “a culture of a bunch of creepy guys” at CPAC—young guys, he clarified. “Everybody knows that guy who swings by and puts his arm around the girl who wants nothing to do with him.”

“I’ve seen guys open up with their credentials as though it’s a job interview,” Moran said. “Hi, how you doing, I’m president of this club and that club, and I’m at Yale!”

Some said that the flirting or hook-up scenes weren’t that much different from back home—except that connections were almost guaranteed to be short-term (“you either get their number or you don’t,” Moran said), and you meet more like-minded people in one place than you’re used to.

“Coming from a liberal state like New York, there’s not a lot of conservative women,” Moran said. “And when you come here and see a bunch of well-dressed people who believe what you believe and look very good—I mean, you get excited!”

Is waiting to have sex until marriage still an ideal among young conservatives?

“It’s definitely kind of an ideal, but I think we’re realistic enough to see that it doesn’t always happen, and there’s nothing really wrong with that,” McMahon said.

Is there hypocrisy along those lines? “I’ve seen a lot more not really practicing what they preach,” said University of Albany student Robert Warshauer. “I feel like religion plays a big part of it.”

Most young people I spoke to hedged with an “everybody has their own view” kind of answer when asked whether they, personally, wanted to wait until marriage. Not so, however, with two young women from Virginia who didn’t want to give their names or the name of their school. One wore an engagement ring and said she’s waiting until her wedding day, and the other said she also believes in waiting until marriage and doesn’t agree with the “casual” attitude toward sex that pervades events like these.

Some didn’t identify with the hook-up scene for other reasons. “I already feel really old here,” said Heather Linville, from Minnesota. “I had to check the 26-40 box today. It’s just been a very rough morning,” she said, laughing, referring to the demographic information in the CPAC straw poll. “I’ve heard stories, you know it’s going on, I’ve just never been a part of it.”

Linville, who wore a “Stand with Rand” button, was still concerned about the tension between social conservatives and libertarians. “Sometimes when I’m around libertarians I feel more Republican, and when I’m around Republicans I feel more libertarian,” she said. “We have to figure out a way to get over ourselves and start being an inclusive party again. We’re just going to start driving people away.” She cited the exclusion of the gay Republican group GOProud as an example.

The right-wing Catholic group Tradition, Family, and Property, which passed out leaflets painting GOProud as “beavers” chomping away at the social conservative “leg” of conservative politics, presumably has strong opinions of its own about the morality of CPAC hook-ups.

I experienced a few CPAC come-ons myself while reporting this piece at a Friday happy hour. One guy looked at my badge to see where I worked and asked what “RH” stood for. I told him it was “reproductive health.”

“What’s that code for?” he asked.

Another said, as an opening salvo: “You look like you need saving.” He probably meant “from boredom,” though, not sin.

Correction: A version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote said by Abigail Welborn to Amy McMahon, and vice versa. We regret the error.

News Race

At ‘Pro-Life’ Conference, Silence on Police Violence

Amy Littlefield

Among the only contributions to the national dialogue taking place over racial justice and state violence was a card circulated in the exhibit hall by a group called the Radiance Foundation that read “All Lives Matter In & Out of the Womb.”

As one of the nation’s largest anti-choice groups launched its three-day conference in Herndon, Virginia, Thursday, a very different conversation was underway on the national stage.

Across the country, peaceful protests erupted over the police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

As Rewire’s Imani Gandy has documented, the anti-choice movement has long attempted to appropriate the language of racial justice and the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag as part of a wider effort to shame Black women and cast abortion as “Black genocide.”

But at the National Right to Life Convention, the overriding response to last week’s police killings was silence. Among the only contributions to the national dialogue taking place over racial justice was a card circulated in the exhibit hall by a group called the Radiance Foundation that read “All lives matter In & Out of the womb.”

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Rewire asked convention director Jacki Ragan whether she thought the issue should have been raised explicitly at the conference.

“We are very single issue,” Ragan said. “We are here because of a threat to human life. We believe the unborn child is a human being from the moment of fertilization. We believe the disabled should have the same rights, [the] elderly should have the same rights, so we’re very single issue. So, no, I don’t really think it would be appropriate to address what had happened other than through prayer at the conference.”

At a prayer breakfast on Friday morning, after conference-goers awoke to the news five police officers had been killed by a gunman in Dallas, Rev. Dennis Kleinmann of St. Veronica Catholic Church in Chantilly, Virginia, prayed for guidance “to make this a better world, a world free of war and violence of every kind, including attacks on those who protect us.”

Ernest Ohlhoff, National Right to Life Committee outreach director, addressed the violence more directly.

“I don’t know if any of you heard the news this morning, but unfortunately we had another catastrophe in our country,” he said. “Five police officers in Dallas were killed in a shooting and [at least] six wounded, and I would ask you to pray for them and their families.”

No prayers were offered for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, or their families. 

Commentary Politics

A Telling Response: Trump’s Mistreatment of Women Evokes Yawn from GOP Leadership

Jodi Jacobson

Republican leaders have been largely dismissive of Donald Trump's misogynistic track record—which speaks volumes about the party's own treatment of women.

This weekend, the New York Times published the results of interviews with more than 50 people, many of whom attested to the fact that in both private and public life, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made “unwelcome romantic advances” toward women and exhibited “unsettling workplace conduct over decades.” Translation: He objectified, sexually harassed, and made unwelcome comments and advances toward women with whom he worked, whom he met in social settings, or who participated in his reality show empire. He even, according to one person quoted in the Times, sought assurance that his own daughter was “hot.” Yet GOP leadership has been largely dismissive of Trump’s track record—which speaks volumes about the party’s own feelings on women.

While important in its detail, the Times story is anything but surprising. Trump is a historical treasure trove of misogynistic behavior and has talked about it openly. In an interview with Esquire, for example, Trump stated: “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” He has frequently made derogatory comments about the looks of female politicians, journalists, actresses, and executives: He’s claimed that “flat-chested” women can’t be beautiful and mused about the potential breast size of his infant daughter. He’s suggested that sexual assault in the military is “expected” because men and women are working together and that the thought of someone pumping breast milk is “disgusting.”

Forgive me if I am not shocked that reports indicate he’s no feminist. Female voters know this: Even conservative news outlet National Review fretted about the fact that both Trump and former presidential aspirant Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) are both highly unpopular among female voters, noting that “seven out of ten women (67 percent) have an unfavorable view of Trump, and only 26 percent view him favorably… and [some] polls have his unfavorability ratings among women even higher, at 74 percent.”

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In interviews this weekend, the Times‘ report elicited what was effectively a yawn from Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, the guy charged with leading the GOP both in terms of the party’s platform and in helping its candidates across the country get elected. On Sunday, Fox News‘s Chris Wallace asked Priebus whether the reports of Trump’s mistreatment of women bothered him. Priebus responded by asserting that “people just don’t care” about all these stories, although when pressed, he suggested that Trump would have to answer to his own statements.

But that dodges the question. Priebus is the head of the party and also needs to take responsibility for his nominee’s behavior, as does the party itself. He did not say, “I deplore the remarks Trump has made during the campaign,” or, “as a party, we need to reflect deeply on why our candidates and policies are so deeply unpopular among a group that makes up more than half the U.S. population.”

Priebus said none of that. He just shooed the issues away. The fact he did not even attempt to address the substance of the Times article is the most telling news of all.

The real problem is that it’s the GOP leadership that just doesn’t care. This morning, the Guardian reported that “After a week of make-up meetings with Donald Trump, Republican party leaders have arrived at a new strategy to accommodate their presumptive presidential nominee: ignore his problematic attitude to women, his tax issues and his fluctuating positions on trade, immigration, foreign relations and a host of other topics, and instead embrace the will of Republican voters.”

The reality is that Trump’s “problematic attitude toward women” is not an isolated problem. For the GOP leadership, it is not a problem at all, but the product of their fundamental policies and positions. The GOP has been waging war on women’s fundamental rights for nearly two decades; it’s just gotten more brash and unapologetic about the attitudes underlying the party’s policies. The GOP is full of candidates who think pregnancy resulting from rape is a blessing; who minimize and stigmatize the role of access to contraception and abortion in public health and personal medical outcomes; who demonize and marginalize single mothers; and who won’t pay for basic services to help the poor. The GOP platform is built on policies that seek to deny women access to reproductive and sexual health care, including but not limited to abortion, thereby also denying them the right to self-determination and bodily autonomy. So the fact that both the party leaders and the media spun themselves into a tizzy when Trump suggested he would imprison women who had abortions was all theater. That is GOP policy.

The GOP majority in Congress and in state legislatures continues to deny low-wage workers—the majority of whom are women—living wages, labor protections, and paid family leave. At the state level, Republican governors and legislators have obliterated funding for education, child care, aid to single-parent families, aid to children with disabilities, and basic health-care services. And Trump is far from unique in this election cycle among GOP presidential candidates: Republicans in the running from Ted Cruz on down have used women as objects when it is convenient, with Cruz going so far as to parade his two young daughters on the campaign trail in bright pink dresses, seemingly to underscore their “innocence” and to stoke fear of transgender persons seeking access to the most basic facilities, though many of those are young girls themselves.

It’s not only Donald Trump’s mistreatment of women. It’s that the GOP’s platform is based on sheer misogyny, and the leadership has to ignore it or they’d have to rethink their entire platform and start from scratch.