The Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC
, was launched in 1974 by the American Conservative Union and Young Americans for Freedom. Its inaugural keynote speaker was none other than Ronald Reagan.
Every year since then, just outside Washington, D.C., thousands of right-wingers come together for four days of speakers, media, receptions, networking, and exhibits. The conference continues to deliver some of the biggest names in Republican politics year after year, with headliners in 2019 including President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, Senator Ted Cruz, and Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin.
Forty-six years after Reagan, CPAC is clearly still going strong.
For the past seven years, one booth in the exhibitor hall has been steadily gaining the attention of attendees and asking them to rethink an issue long considered a mainstay of the GOP.
Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (CCATDP) announced its formation at CPAC in 2013, and every year since has been pointing out the ways that the death penalty does not align with conservative values.
The realities are that the death penalty is a failed, big government program, filled with all the corruption, incompetency, and misallocation of resources that marks everything government touches. Humans are fallible, and therefore government is fallible. Conservatives value limiting government for this reason. We also believe in fiscal responsibility and protecting the sanctity of human life. The death penalty does not meet any of those principles.
For these reasons, many on the right are changing their stance on this topic. When CCATDP first launched, we were often met with surprise and curiosity. After seven years though, we now meet many enthusiastic supporters of our work who have already changed their stance to being anti-death penalty and who are eager to get involved with the work.
Throughout the conference, I personally had the privilege of speaking with practically every media outlet in attendance about CCATDP and our work. Here too, I was met with overwhelming support. Not everyone is anti-death penalty, but no longer do they find it surprising that conservatives are turning against it, and many are more than happy to have the discussion.
At CCATDP, we often say that support for the death penalty runs a mile wide and an inch deep. Most people form an initial moral judgment on the death penalty and never look into it any further. But once someone takes even just a few minutes to examine the system and how it actually operates, they typically become convinced it should go.
The case against it is overwhelming: astonishing numbers of innocent people sentenced; exorbitant costs that do not deter crime and, in fact, drain resources that could help prevent or solve more crime; obvious racial and socioeconomic discrepancies; and arbitrariness.
This assessment continued to prove true once again this year at CPAC. Each year we attend we find more and more people in support of ending the death penalty, particularly younger people. We’re grateful for the opportunity to participate in this cherished event and for the opportunity to advocate for conservatism.
With the death penalty on its way out, and our movement as strong as it’s ever been, my hope is we won’t be around for CPAC 46 years from now. There will no longer be any need.
Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.