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Subject: A Hillary Staffer Goes to CPAC
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Subject: A Hillary Staffer Goes to CPAC
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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 
conservative commentary.


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