How to Learn from Conservatives

In February, I was able to attend the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference, held annually in a conference center outside Washington, D.C. I live blogged two days of general sessions, interviewed people, heard numerous speakers, and was present at a Trump rally. I had the opportunity to talk to a number of conservative activists, from 18-year-old college students to elderly men and women wearing MAGA hats to politicians and political consultants. I was in a gaggle with Ted Cruz. I had the pleasure of wandering around with a badge that said “Media,” which meant that anyone I was interested in talking to seemed to want to talk to me. Some of you read my posts here and here: they were mostly written from the press section, where I was surrounded not just by legacy journalists, but also by representatives of the conservative press, bloggers, interns for right wing news organizations, and numerous conservative correspondents for podcasts and local radio stations that broadcast over the Internet.

It was an amazing introduction to #Trumpworld, to conservative activism, and to the media celebrities that are driving contemporary right-wing and libertarian politics forward. It was also an opportunity to learn a lesson rarely taught in academia: listening deeply often requires not interrupting other people with the need to express your own views.

I can’t say I wasn’t nervous before I went: have you ever gone someplace where someone was walking around dressed as Hillary Clinton in handcuffs and everyone thought it was a gas? I hadn’t, and it is surreal and a little scary. Furthermore, while I did a fair amount of reporting in my youth, I had never before covered a major political event. I also had no idea how I would be received, although as it turned out, I was warmly received by everyone, except for the Secret Service agents who swarmed me when I initially tried to enter the convention center by mistake during a lockdown  (journalism pro tip: when asked IN A VERY LOUD VOICE to drop your luggage and put your hands on your head, just do it.)

But what did I learn at #CPAC2018? It has taken a few weeks to assemble my thoughts, but here goes.

To read the rest of this post, published on Public Seminar on April 18, 2018, click here.

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