Tue, Dec 26, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Young conservatives gather to reject political correctness

This week, 3,000 college students met near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort for a summit on free speech, the ‘culture wars’ and the dangers posed by the left

By Richard Luscombe  /  The Guardian, WEST PALM BEACH, Florida

It is a US tradition that any large gathering of students usually becomes a party. Such a convocation this week in Florida, barely a stone’s throw from US President Donald Trump’s opulent winter retreat at Mar-a-Lago, was billed as a political action summit for young conservatives. At the event, amid a multitude of “Make America Great Again” caps and “Trump for America” flags, it was essentially a raucous celebration of the president himself.

About 3,000 students from campuses nationwide gathered on Trump’s doorstep at the Palm Beach County convention center for the four-day winter summit, hosted by Turning Point USA, whose mission statement promotes “non-partisan debate, dialogue and discussion.”

However, its leanings were signaled pretty clearly in the quasi-official motto that was printed on placards placed on every seat: “Big government sucks.”

A succession of Trump’s biggest cheerleaders joined the party as headline speakers, from former White House staffers Sebastian Gorka and Anthony Scaramucci to right-wing commentators and broadcasters, including Dennis Prager and Tomi Lahren. Each warned the eager young loyalists of the dangers posed by the left.

However, some of the loudest appreciation was reserved for the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, who came to tell the students that faceless government officials were behind special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the run-up to last year’s presidential election.

“There is, and there are, people at the highest levels of government that don’t want to let America be America,” Trump Jr told his enthusiastic audience. “My father talked about a rigged system during the campaign and it is. Now we’re seeing it.”

Charlie Kirk, the 24-year-old founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, is seen as a rising star of the right. He bristled at the suggestion that his lineup of speakers was weighted to deliver a strongly pro-Trump message.

“It’s actually a very diverse group, racially diverse, ethnically diverse and philosophically diverse,” he said shortly before taking to the stage with Trump Jr.

“One of these dishonest reporters I was talking to a couple of weeks ago said: ‘Hey Charlie, it seems your speaker lineup is all people who love Trump and work for Fox News.’ I said: ‘That’s one of the most intellectually dishonest statements I’ve ever seen. We have Austin Petersen, who ran for president under the Libertarian Party, who is a total never-Trumper. We have Ben Shapiro, who is like the leading never-Trump voice, we have libertarian speakers such as Dave Rubin,” he said.

“We want big names, people that draw attention, and you know what? There’s going to be a lot of contradictory statements. We’re cool with that. There’s going to be Alex Epstein in a shirt that says ‘I love fossil fuels’ and we’re going to have speakers talking about how conservatives should better embrace the idea of climate change,” he added. “It shows that we as Turning Point embrace conservatives, libertarians, people in the middle.”

So why the need for an “action” summit when Trump won the election 13 months ago and conservatives control both houses of Congress?

“I’ve found over the last couple of years how intolerant and dangerous college campuses have become for conservatives,” Kirk said, citing a “culture war” he sees raging between left and right.

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