Issues and anxieties at the Conservative Political Action Conference

  • Elegant Ramblings: Preamble to the Reagan Dinner Party CPAC Convention, National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • Preamble to the Reagan Dinner Party at the CPAC Convention in National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • The Final Squeeze from the Right Wing Breeze CPAC Convention, National Harbour, Md., March 5, 2016.
  • The Final Squeeze from the Right Wing Breeze CPAC Convention, National Harbour, Md., March 5, 2016.
  • Kathy Posnett at the CPAC Convention in National Harbour, Md., March 5, 2016.
  • The Final Squeeze from the Right Wing Breeze CPAC Convention, National Harbour, Md., March 5, 2016.
  • “What frightens me the most about America’s future is our over-regulations of government and our large partisan divide and not working together. Whether it’s democrat or republican we need lawmakers working together to provide common sense solutions to some of America’s toughest problems.” - Ashley Carter, Independent Women’s Forum, National Harbour, Md., March 5, 2016. 
  • Preamble to the Reagan Dinner Party at the CPAC Convention in National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016. 
  • Attendees at CPAC play on gadgets, March 4, 2016. 
  • Elegant Ramblings: Preamble to the Reagan Dinner Party CPAC Convention, National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • Preamble to the Reagan Dinner Party at the CPAC Convention in National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • Elegant Ramblings: Preamble to the Reagan Dinner Party CPAC Convention, National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • Preamble to the Reagan Dinner Party at the CPAC Convention in National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • Elegant Ramblings: Preamble to the Reagan Dinner Party CPAC Convention, National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • Preamble to the Reagan Dinner Party at the CPAC Convention in National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • Elegant Ramblings: Preamble to the Reagan Dinner Party CPAC Convention, National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • Preamble to the Reagan Dinner Party at the CPAC Convention in National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • Conference attendees are pictured at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on March 4, 2016.
  • Conference attendees are pictured at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on March 4, 2016.
  • Conference attendees are pictured at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on March 4, 2016.
  • Conference attendees are pictured at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on March 4, 2016.
  • “I would say that my biggest fear is the national debt. We’re already 19 trillion dollars in debt and a lot of people don’t understand how much of a crisis that we’re actually in, and it’s only projected to get worse. So it’s kind of leaving our generation in the dust. I mean, we’re going to have to make up for that in the future, especially when a lot of us are graduating and entering the workforce and it’s going to be tough. We really need to find solutions to this issue.” - Emily Parry, National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • “I think the biggest issue that scares me about the future of our nation is the growing scope of the federal government. You know, we’ve constantly seen that states rights have been taken away, either through constitutional means such as the Supreme Court, or by overreach by bureaucracies and the executive branch. On top of that, to encompass everything, big government. Taxation is a huge problem. We don’t have enough individuals retaining more of their own money. Regulation is a big problem as well. We don’t allow small businesses to emerge. We really are allowing for more monopolies to occur within our economy. And on top of that the national debt.” - Joshua Recalde, National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016. 
  • CPAC Convention, National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • CPAC Convention, National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • CPAC Convention, National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016.
  • Conference attendees are pictured at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on March 4, 2016.
  • “The thing the frightens me the most about the future of our country is definitely the overreach of the federal government, and we’re kind of talking about how we think big government sucks. I mean we’re the generation that has lived through 9/11, an Iraq war, a turbulent economy, even emerging nations such as China and India. And the last thing right now—we don’t want to be told what to do. We are a generation of freedom and liberty, so to be told what to do and to be controlled by a group that we don’t even know of, that we don’t even know much about, is frightening to us because we want to be empowered and we want to be given the responsibility to be able to partake in making our country better and more effective. “ - Lauren Konkol, National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016. 
  • Conference attendees are pictured at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on March 4, 2016.
  •  “The most important thing we have to do is to get over being so free and arguing so much about every little point—we are litigious. We are argumentative to the point that we are counterproductive. I fear that the government is going to continue this road into factions—factiousness, if you will—and not get anything constructive done. I think they’ve forgotten that their job is not to run the company. Their job is to organize and keep the company running. I think that they’ve forgotten that they are servants of the economy and everything else that we’ve got. And they think they’re in charge, and by God they’re gonna lead—no matter if we’re going to follow or not.” - Michael Pemberton , National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016. 
  • “People tend to think that when we lose freedom or when we lose liberty it’s cyclical. That maybe it’s bad now but it’ll come back, but it always comes back. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. I think the thing that frightens me the most about America’s future is all about trajectory. And right now the path that we’re on just like a missile, if you look at our speed and our path, suggests that we’re on the road to losing what’s left of our individual liberty, and stopping and changing that trajectory is very important. It’s not inevitable—it’s not going to happen by itself. It’s not cyclical and it frightens me because I think most people don’t understand that and they’re sitting back and waiting thinking maybe this will fix itself.” - Brent E. Hamachek, National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016
  • Cardboard cut outs of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump are pictured at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on March 3, 2016.
  • “A lot of young people are graduating from college. They don’t have jobs. They’re living at home with their parents. It makes my heart so heavy because, you know, this is our future of our country. I work with a lot of people and they tell me that they’re really scared about their future because they come out of college with so much debt, they can’t find jobs, many of them are still living at home, and they’re concerned about their ability to truly be independent. They’re scared about paying off their debt, they’re afraid they’re never going to be able to find a decent job or be on their own and I think that’s a very serious concern… The ability of our millennial-age voters and citizens to feel confident in their future, because that’s the future of our country.” - Martha Boneta, National Harbour, Md., March 3, 2016.
  • “I think that we’re at a hinge point, where we can really turn the country around. We have the potential—there’s so much there we can do to make things better than they even were before. And I think that the way you do that is by electing a principled conservative to turn things around. And I think my biggest fear against that is that there’s a con artist—a fraud—who is threatening to overtake the party. To pull a fast on on us. And he’s going to get into the general election. Someone who doesn’t believe in anything other than himself. Who has no greater ideology other than his ego. “ - Casey Rankin, National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016. 
  • Scenes from CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on March 3, 2016.
  • A CPAC attendee is pictured in National Harbor, Md., on March 3, 2016.
  • CPAC attendees walk around the convention in National Harbor, Md., on March 3, 2016.
  • A conference attendee checks his phone at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., March 3, 2016.
  • 
“The sober, careful thought processes of a doctor and a man who just seems like a decent man, a logical man, these are the people who should be at the top. But that’s not what makes it today. I’ll give you a quote I really believe in. That is: ‘if what you’re doing doesn’t work, you may not know what to do, but you know what not to keep doing.’ And that’s the problem. We keep on doing things that don’t work. That’s what the democrats have been doing. That’s what got us where we are now.” - Ben Williams, National Harbour, Md., March 3, 2016. 
  • “[My biggest fear] is that we’re not leaving enough for our children. So whether that be enough resources, whether that be enough opportunity, whether it be enough love and understanding for each other– I just feel like, for a while it felt like each generation was getting closer, but I’m not 100% sold that it’s going to keep going in that trajectory… At some point we’re all going to have to be in a room and figure it out.” - Demetrius Robinson, National Harbour, Md., March 3, 2016.
  • “Something that makes me fear for the future of America is our government sucks at spending and the special attention they have been paying to the lobbyists and special interest groups, but something that my candidate of choice could do is to be more conscious of how they are spending the people’s money and also to actually listen to the actual citizens instead of the lobbyist groups and the special interest groups… The capitalism that’s in effect now is crony capitalism. That isn’t actual capitalism.” - Jessie Fox, National Harbour, Md., March 3, 2016.
  • Preamble to the Reagan Dinner Party at the CPAC Convention in National Harbour, Md., March 4, 2016. 
  • “There are two major things that scare me the most… One major one is obviously our foreign policy direction. I think that with the administration now, and with similar-minded individuals to the current administration, they provide a kind of isolationist movement that has never historically worked and they promulgate a foreign policy that doesn’t make us safer by calling the Islamic State a JV team, or by not supporting our allies in the Middle East like Israel. It sets up a precedent for later administrations that might be from the same party to follow in those same footsteps because obviously that’s how parties run.” - Jack Sinko, National Harbour, Md., March 3, 2016.
  • Conference attendees talk to one another at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on March 3, 2016.
  • The Comings and Goings CPAC Convention, National Harbour, Md., March 3, 2016.
  • The Comings and Goings CPAC Convention, National Harbour, Md., March 3, 2016.
  • A CPAC attendee talks on his cell phone at the conference in National Harbor, Md., on March 3, 2016.
  • Conference attendees talk to one another during CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on March 2, 2016.
  • “I’m honestly a very optimistic person, I’m like a glass half full type, so what frightens me most… because I’m a first generation American, my parents escaped communism, they escaped a socialist country…. So what frightens me most is not the fact that… Bernie Sanders obviously isn’t going to win the Democratic nomination, but just the fact that he has the grassroots support that I see… So I guess to me what frightens me the most is… that the left has basically since 2000 more or less, has been moving further further to the left and now we’re seeing it go into socialism…” - Alex Witoslawski, National Harbor, Md., March 2, 2016.
  • “The lack of morality in our country…. We have fallen into a day in age of moral irrelevetism [sic]… there’s no more truth, and that’s my biggest fear… The best candidate for me is going to be one that has the moral fiber and the character to be the true leader of the country. And again, unfortunately in this media driven age it’s become less and less about telling the truth and more about positioning and manipulating than speaking to the issues.” - Scott Spages, National Harbor, Md., March 2, 2016.
  • “America’s future? Probably our national debt at this point, considering what is going into it and where we’re lacking in spending in the future. We’re having people pay into social security but we’re not going to have anything for our future generations in that aspect and it’s kind of a major concern when we’re telling people to be dependent on the system, but we’re not going to have a system for them…. To address that, issue bonds to everyone who has paid into it that would mature upon their retirement date and phase out social security and… encourage private investments in their retirement.” - Chris Fries, CPAC Attendee in National Harbor, Md., March 2, 2016.
  • “See that’s a tough question because I’m not necessarily frightened about America’s feature… I look at our nation’s history and we’ve been in tough spots before, but it seems that as I look, no matter where we’ve gone we’ve always managed to pull through… I think there are definitely some things we could fix, especially economically… but, I’m not the type that gets frightened about the future of our country…. When I look for a candidate, I like to see a candidate that’s thoughtful about the issues, seems to be well informed, and likes to offer solutions to deal with the problems that the country is facing and that’s what I look for. Not necessarily ones that can drum up the most emotionally charged rhetoric at all, but I like looking for somebody that has practical solutions to the issues.” - Timothy Weir, National Harbor, Md., March 2, 2016.
  • “I guess I’m really worried about just not being able to really talk about issues openly…Not being able to debate… to the point where it’s like people get so scared of hurting feelings… they don’t really like to sit down and talk things out…I already see it at school, so I’m afraid when these people graduate and they go into the world of work, politics, or business are they going to carry that with them? And that freaks me out because you can’t solve problems without a little bit of debate.” - Tim Jacobs, March 2, 2016.
  • Chairs are arranged in order before the start of CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on March 2, 2016.

of

Updated

For decades, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has been a required stop for Republican presidential candidates trying to win over their party’s most engaged activists, and this year’s gathering includes every remaining contender — except for front-runner Donald Trump, who abruptly canceled his planned Saturday appearance on Friday.

The conference is an annual temperature check for the right’s mood, and right now, there’s a lot of concern about the world and the presidential race. Photographer Larry Fink documented the event for MSNBC this year, and he asked attendees what frightens them most when they think about America’s future and how they think their favored candidate will address their fears. 

While CPAC felt like the proverbial circling of the conservative movement’s wagons, particularly as compared to the personality-focused presidential race, answers from attendees ran the gamut. One attendee, Jack Sinko, said the direction of American foreign policy and the possible election of another Democratic president are issues that spark serious concern for him.

He added that conservative candidates should focus more on energizing people, rather than making them ”feel like they were being talked down to all the time like they are by the current establishment.” “I think that the current establishment — Rubio, not so much Cruz, but how Jeb Bush was — can take some real pointers from people like Trump,” Sinko said.

Overall, though, he described the conservative movement as a “politics of kindness.” “Now we have to figure out how in the world can we affect the politics of kindness,” Sinko said. 

A few people at CPAC identified nonpartisan issues as those that made them most afraid for the future of America.

“Something that makes me fear for the future of America is our government sucks at spending and the special attention they have been paying to the lobbyists and special interest groups,” said CPAC attendee Jessie Fox. “But something that my candidate of choice could do is … be more conscious of how they are spending the people’s money.” He added that he wanted a candidate who would listen to the citizens rather than special interest groups. 

Meanwhile, another CPAC goer identified crony capitalism as a problematic issue, and another added that “government interference into the market” was distorting supply and demand and expressed concern over how the government spends taxpayer dollars. 

MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin contributed to this article.

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography.  

Speak Out