At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, young Americans from across the country made a strong showing.
The Daily Signal spoke with nine young adults to get their take on conservatism and why they identify as conservatives. Below are their stories.
1. Brandon Morris, Age: 32, Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
Brandon Morris, a graduate of Santa Fe College, says he grew up as a Democrat for most of his childhood. A former pan-African, Black Panther member and Black Lives Matter supporter, Morris once regarded conservative views as racist.
“I thought Republicans or conservatives were racist,” he said. “And then once I learned the history of everything, and [got] deeper into the policies and what actually takes effect, it made me comfortable to actually become a conservative Republican.”
What led Morris to his conversion? After a two-hour political debate with his conservative college roommate and his roommate’s friend, Morris says he decided to research conservative viewpoints more closely to better combat their arguments.
“I wanted to learn about conservatives so I [could] debate them and defeat them with their own side,” he said. “And after maybe a couple of months of reading and studying as much as I could, I was surprised and actually ended up making the switch over.”
Morris says he started to receive criticism from friends and family when they discovered his conservative identity.
“Oh they didn’t like it. They still don’t like it,” he said. “I lost a lot of friends because they called me an ‘Uncle Tom.’ But then I told them to read ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’—look at the synopsis, he was a hero.”
Morris says his background as a liberal gives him an advantage during a debate because he is well-rounded on both platforms. He says his friends call him the “Black Ben Shapiro” for always having a great comeback to confrontations against his conservative views.
2. Wyatt Dobrovich-Fago, Age: 18, Hometown: Wall, New Jersey
Wyatt Dobrovich-Fago is one of the many victims of the campus outrage against conservatives, especially Trump supporters.
Dobrovich-Fago garnered national attention when news broke that his high school edited out the “Trump” logo on his vest for his high school yearbook photo.
“The school allowed logos and other things to be put into the yearbook,” he said, adding: “There’s also another student who had a Trump shirt that was completely photoshopped with black paint over it. My sister had a Trump quote that was left out of the yearbook with all the other class presidents having their yearbook quote and stated, but not my sister’s because it was a Trump quote.”
Dobrovich-Fago was invited on “Fox & Friends” to share his story that went viral.
“I got to meet the president at last CPAC and he remembered me from my interview on ‘Fox & Friends,’ and told me to keep up the good work,” he said.
From then on, Dobrovich-Fago says he was “emboldened” to promote free speech and conservative values:
I think it’s important to be able to say what you want, [to] be able to wear what you want, without people literally photoshopping and censoring your speech. And what happened to me was an infringement of my rights and really made me think that if people are willing to do [that], then they’re willing to do anything. And it really emboldened me to be more into politics, to go to different political conferences like CPAC, [and] to get involved on campuses.
Dobrovich-Fago became involved with Young America’s Foundation during his first year at American University. He says getting involved with the grassroots student activism organization committed to promoting conservative values was a big turning point in his life because it got him more involved in politics.
3. Mesgana Yilma, Age: 18, Hometown: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Mesgana Yilma is an aspiring politician who says she is conservative for reasons “most liberals think I shouldn’t be, because I’m black.”
Yilma used to identify as a Democrat because she believed their policies helped the black community the most until she “learned more and more about what policies are put in place and how it’s affecting people,” she said. “I realized it’s not the truth.”
When engaging in political discussions, Yilma says she has learned to put facts over emotion. She noticed most conservatives argue with logic and reason, whereas liberal opinions are typically predicated on emotion.
For example, she addressed how guns were portrayed after the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a student shot and killed 17 individuals.
“They made the whole message that there needs to be no guns, like guns are the issue,” Yilma said. “And then I’m thinking, that obviously isn’t the issue because you look at places that have really strict gun laws like Chicago, Detroit, [and] North Philly, where we are always getting notifications of different shootings—you got to look at the policymakers and who’s there.”
Yilma thinks the answer is in conservative solutions: “I think the proper way to address it is by protecting people more instead of taking away everybody else’s freedom.”
4. Joseph Cortese, Age: 22, Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Joseph Cortese says he isn’t shy about being conservative. For him, it’s a fundamental part of how he was raised.
“I think that I should keep the money I work for, not the government,” Cortese said. “And my parents raised me and taught me the value of hard work.”
For this reason, Cortese “believe[s] in limited government” so that individuals can be free from the government and keep the money they work for.
In addition to being an advocate of small government, Cortese is also “unapologetically pro-life and pro-Second Amendment.”
5. Christopher Miller, Age: 21, Hometown: Ripon, Wisconsin
Although he grew up in a conservative family in a small town with a population of 8,000 people, Christopher Miller says he became a conservative on his own by doing his own research in college.
“My dad always introduced me to a lot of my political ideas, but when I got through high school and started going to college, I did my best to do my own reading and thinking, and opening myself up to some new ideas,” Miller said.
Though Miller leans more toward libertarianism, he comes to CPAC because “it’s fun to be around like-minded people. There’s still a lot of variation within conservatism so it’s good to just be introduced to new people and new ideas.”
6. Lily Dileo, Age: 20, Hometown: New York, New York
Lily Dileo says she cares about the use of tax dollars in America, especially within the immigration system.
“I would love people to come into the country, but they need to come in legally because it’s not fair to people who have come in legally and have made it in here,” she said.
As a conservative, she says she is “tired of politicians giving benefits to poor people and to really rich people … [but] the middle class has to pay for it and gets no benefits.”
Dileo highlighted the Green New Deal as one policy that will undermine hardworking Americans. “Who’s going to be paying for that?” she asks. “My family.”
7. Lauren Wenig, Age: 22, Hometown: Bel Air, Maryland
Lauren Wenig voiced her concerns about the American immigration system, one of Trump’s top policy issues.
“One thing I feel very, very passionate about is immigration,” she said. “And I’ll tell you why. Because I think this country belongs to the actual American citizens.”
Wenig noted added competition for jobs, and the strain put on the American school system and welfare system among her top concerns, saying, “We work hard for our money, for our jobs, and for our families.”
8. Zachary Petrizzo, Age 21, Hometown: , Washington, D.C.
Zachary Petrizzo says it’s the idea of individual responsibility that sets conservatism apart.
“I always had this idea that conservatism is the idea that sovereignty resides within the individual person and that each of us has a responsibility to ensure that we not only work hard every day, but ensure that we leave the earth better than we found it,” Petrizzo said.
“That means economic prosperity for people, and that means equality for all people, and I think those two things fall on me,” he added.
9. Ian Rauenbuhler, Age: 21, Hometown: Trenton, New Jersey
The 2016 presidential election is what got Ian Rauenbuhler into conservatism.
“That’s when I really started paying attention to politics, and I really like Donald Trump’s tell-it-like-it-is message,” he said.
Rauenbuhler says he was also drawn to politics around that time because he was starting his first job, and gravitated toward Trump’s message of “low taxes.”
“I hated every time I got a paycheck and how much money the government was taking out of my paychecks,” Rauenbuhler said.
Ever since, Rauenbuhler has supported the conservative values of limited government and lower taxes.
CPAC, the largest annual national gathering of conservative activists was held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside Washington.