Subject: A Hillary Staffer Goes to CPAC
By Annafi Wahed
March 1, 2018 7:19 p.m. ET
‘Make sure to check in with us!” one friend told me. “Try not to get
killed,” another warned. I wasn’t off to a war zone or a spy mission in
Moscow. I was riding a bus from New York to Washington to attend the
Conservative Political Action Conference.
To be sure, I’m a tiny, talkative South Asian woman who spent four
months on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign staff. I wasn’t exactly in my
element surrounded by people in “Make America Great Again” hats chanting
“Lock her up! Lock her up!“ But there was more to CPAC than that. In
four days, I spoke with more than 100 conservatives, most of whom
greeted me with open arms and thanked me for being there and having an
open mind. They happily engaged me in meaningful political conversation
and invited me for drinks and after-parties.
Where some saw a circus, I saw a big tent. I spoke with Jennifer C.
Williams, chairman of the Trenton, N.J., Republican Committee and a
transgender activist. Twenty feet away, I spoke with a religious leader
who opposes same-sex marriage. While a panelist touted capital
punishment, several attendees crowded the Conservatives Concerned About
the Death Penalty booth. Hours after President Trump recast Oscar Brown
Jr. ’s song “The Snake” as an ugly anti-immigrant parable, several
influential Republicans were asking me, a naturalized citizen, how they
can support my startup.
In retrospect, I’m embarrassed at how nervous I was when I arrived. I
found myself singing along to “God Bless the USA” with a hilariously
rowdy group of college Republicans, having nuanced discussions about gun
control and education policy with people from all walks of life, nodding
my head in agreement with parts of Ben Shapiro’s speech, and coming away
with a greater determination to burst ideological media bubbles.
Among liberals, conservatives have a reputation for being closed-minded,
even deplorable. But in the Washington Republicans I encountered at
CPAC, I found a group of people who acknowledged their party’s
shortcomings, genuinely wondered why I left my corporate job to join
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign in 2016, and listened to my arguments before
defending their own positions.
Although CPAC attendees were as passionate about policy as my liberal
friends, they took a more lighthearted approach. At one after-party,
they alternated between taking selfies with Milo Yiannopoulos and
engaging in a thoughtful, substantive discussion with a Democrat. One
notable exchange: I exclaimed, “Of course the Department of Education is
necessary!” which drew the rejoinder, “Great! Let’s make 50 of them!”
As I look back on all the people who greeted me warmly, made sure I
didn’t get lost in the crowd, and went out of their way to introduce me
to their friends, I can’t help but wonder how a Trump supporter would
have fared at a Democratic rally. Would someone wearing a MAGA hat be
greeted with smiles or suspicion, be listened to or shouted down?
At Hillary rallies, we always filled the stands with our biggest
supporters. At CPAC, most of the few liberals in attendance had media
credentials, as I did. I’m new to this, but shouldn’t we want to engage
with people who aren’t convinced of our viewpoints? Why aren’t there
more conservatives at Democratic rallies and more liberals at CPAC? What
are we afraid of?
Ms. Wahed is founder of TheFlipSide.io, a daily digest of liberal and
This email has been checked for viruses by AVG.