It’s 4 p.m. on Wednesday, the first day of the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference—not exactly a prime speaking slot—but a standing room-only crowd has gathered to hear from freshman Congressman Dan Crenshaw. While we wait for the 34-year-old Texan, who is running late due to a vote in the House, the first person I talk to at the back of the Eastern Shore meeting room is Jacob Foster, an 18-year-old high-school student at Gann Academy outside Boston, who is attending CPAC for the third time in his young life. Foster is something of an endangered species at the conference: a conservative who likes a lot of the policies advanced by President Donald Trump yet doesn’t intend to vote for him in 2020 because of Trump’s character. But Crenshaw gives Foster hope.
“The glaring difference is he’s not facing accusations of sexual assault, he hasn’t had three marriages, he didn’t dodge the Vietnam draft,” Foster says. “On policy issues, there are meaningful differences. On trade, he’s not as quick to use tariffs.”
When Crenshaw arrives, the former Navy SEAL speaks about how to inspire “people back home” to embrace conservative values—personal responsibility, limited government, virtue, liberty—over a culture of outrage. “A society full of people who are easily enraged by every tweet they see, or some news story that comes out—so susceptible to outrage culture, so ready to be offended—it’s not a sustainable society. It’s a society at each other’s throats,” he says. Crenshaw doesn’t mention Trump once. The only politician cited by name is John Adams. The Constitution is “wholly inadequate for any other people but a moral people,” says Crenshaw, paraphrasing the Founding Father. Meanwhile, Trump fixer Michael Cohen is across the Potomac testifying to Congress.