CPAC sells young conservatives with ‘hip and cool’ swag

National Harbor, Maryland (CNN)It was early Friday afternoon on the ground floor of the Conservative Political Action Conference here, just hours after President Donald Trump had stoked the faithful, and the “art therapy lounge” was quietly abuzz.

Two young women plonked themselves down on a pair of beanbag chairs, grabbed “snowflake coloring books” and began to unpack boxes of colored pencils.
“It’s kind of a parody of snowflakes, quote-unquote, on college campuses who get easily offended about things that they don’t agree with and tend to need safe spaces in order to de-stress over those triggered feelings,” explained Pardes Seleh, the contributors editor for Red Alert, a conservative political website for millennials. “So we made a mock safe space over here.”

    Red Alert politics has an art therapy lounge. It's to tease liberals, but they say it's been really popular here.

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    Turns out, it was a bigger draw than she’d expected. The target audience was sold, snatching up the books and pencils for future rounds of therapeutic scribbling.
    Seleh leafed through the book, coming to a cartoonist’s rendering of Trump and top aides Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus in a small boat crossing the Potomac River.
    “Trump represents very provocative speech and things that can make you easily offended,” she said, pointing to the pale threesome. “So you’ve got a lot of pictures of him and — I think that’s Steve Bannon.”

    Inside the "Snowflake coloring book" — Bannon, Trump and Priebus(?)

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    Mockery — of campus liberals and Democrats more broadly — was also the dominant theme at a nearby booth run by Turning Point USA, a nonprofit that works to “identify, empower and organize” young conservatives.
    Its senior adviser, Bill Montgomery, shuffled through up a catalog of their hottest swag, including a bright sky blue and red “Socialism Sucks” poster. It was drawn up to look like Bernie Sanders’ campaign logo.
    “I’m probably one of the few people who can hold a conversation with a radical left-wing person and not get nasty,” Montogomery said, eyeing the adjacent tables. “People are so angry and so hostile they’re not willing to take the time or trouble to say, ‘Hey, maybe that’s a point.'”

    Trump says a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters voted for him. These folks seem less interested in currying their favor…

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    Their best mover so far, he added, were the “Big Gov Sucks” T-shirts.
    A few aisles over, past the “Bone Zone” — named for and manned by Ken Bone, the red sweater-wearing presidential debate questioner and living meme — two young women were greeting curious shoppers who sidling up to their table of “Born in the USA” onesies.

    Ken Bone with his people.. in the "Bone Zone." (Their term, folks.)

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    Another vintage, by its side, read “Save the Storks,” which is also the name of the group they represented — an anti-abortion start-up aimed at delivering a gentle argument to women trying to make their way inside abortion services facilities.

    A onesie from "Save the Storks." They park vans outside abortion clinics, like rolling crisis pregnancy centers.

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    “We’re not protesting, we’re not picketing, we’re just standing there” — outside the clinics — “with information and we invite women into the unit if they want to come, and offer them a free ultrasound,” said Marcie Little, the group’s creative director.
    She sat near a pair of cloth reading chairs and a small shelf with a glossy lamp. A coffee table book for sale, titled, “Stork Coffee: Brewed for Life,” looked to be plucked from an Urban Outfitters catalog or West Elm showroom.
    “We don’t want to compel anything,” Little said, offering a counterpoint to conservative legislatures that have pushed to require ultrasounds for women considering an abortion. “Save the Storks” offers those for free, aboard branded mobile units adorned with images of smiling millennials in medical garb. “We’re trying to make it hip and cool to serve moms and we’re seeing that our positive messaging is reaching people that have been turned off to the pro-life message.”

    The Regnery folks wanted to be clear: Freddie the Frogcaster predates the rise of Pepe.

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    The mood at the Regnery Publishing stand was a little less enthusiastic. When a reporter asked, sympathetically, when they had started printing their “Freddy the Frogcaster” series, which was stood up alongside other children’s books, like Callista Gingrich’s “Ellis the Elephant,” assistant marketing director Nicole Yeatman sighed and a colleague put his head in his hands.
    “They always ask if ‘Freddy the Frogcaster’ was really ‘Pepe the Frog,'” she said, “but it’s not. It has nothing to do with it. It’s so unfortunate.”
    Really, Yeatman added — of Freddy — “It’s just a very sweet story.”
    Pepe, an old cartoon frog appropriated by the alt-right as its leering online mascot, had apparently muddied the pond for all frogs in public life.
    “We used to always use the frog emoticon on Twitter,” Yeatman said, wincing.
    “This whole thing has ruined frogs for everybody.”

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