What happens at CPAC? When and where the conference takes place

Argentinian president Javier Milei set to speak at this year’s conference

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Saturday 24 February 2024 12:59 GMT
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Related video: The five most bizarre lines from CPAC 2023

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) gathers three times a year, usually in February, March and July, and can always be relied upon to serve up a woke-bashing, conspiracy theory-pushing, red meat-throwing jamboree.

The latest instalment is taking place right now at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland, just outside Washington DC, running from 21 to 24 February.

One of the top speakers to join the conference this time around is the eccentric, muttonchop-wearing, chainsaw-wielding Argentinian president Javier Milei.

CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp explained in a statement that he met Mr Milei at CPAC Mexico “as he was beginning his historic campaign, and we believe he has captured the spirit of those who see the treachery of globalist elites. American patriots are rooting for him to succeed and we also like the chainsaw”.

Mr Schlapp has overseen a massive change at the conference, as it went from what used to be seen as establishment Republican politics to full-on MAGA amid former president Donald Trump’s takeover of the party.

Writing about CPAC’s March gathering last year, The Independent’s Eric Garcia noted: “The gathering has long been a cattle call for potential Republican presidential nominees and other rising stars in the party. And it sets the tone for what conservatives will likely focus on in the next election.

“Nowadays, like much of the rest of the conservative movement, Donald Trump has co-opted the event and made himself the centre of it. Many of the other speakers at the event came from the former president’s orbit while other speakers spoke to often half-empty rooms.

“Many of the panels focused on enforcing immigration, the former president’s main focus while he was in the White House. CPAC also focused intensely on targeting transgender rights.”

Last year, for instance, a CPAC speaker who later was found to have played a queer character in a student film argued that, “for the good of society, transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely – the whole preposterous ideology”.

In recent years, the event has become more and more of an international affair, with events in Mexico and Hungary, where the country’s prime minister Viktor Orban likened liberalism to a “virus” as he too bashed LGBT+ rights.

Argentinian president Javier Milei
Argentinian president Javier Milei (Getty)

Mr Trump has often been CPAC’s keynote speaker in recent years, typically taking the last speech of the conference and receiving a reliably rapturous reception, not least when he embraces the Stars-and-Stripes.

The former president uses the spot to speak freely and last year made at least 23 false statements during his address.

CNN’s Daniel Dale noted at the time that that number was still “far from the total”, adding that the speech was full of “wildly inaccurate claims”.

Never a man to be unduly bothered by the details, Mr Trump said in that address that the 2024 presidential race represented “the final battle” for America’s soul.

“The Republican Party was ruled by freaks, neo-cons, open border zealots and fools,” he declared of his MAGA takeover of the GOP.

“We’re never going back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and Jeb Bush.”

In addition to Mr Trump, here are some of the other notable speakers set to appear at the conference this week:

  • Elise Stefanik – chair of the House Republican Conference
  • Vivek Ramaswamy – former presidential candidate
  • Dr Ben Carson – former secretary of housing and urban development
  • Jim Jordan – Ohio congressman and House Judiciary Committee chair
  • Nigel Farage – former leader of the UK’s Brexit Party
  • Liz Truss – short-lived former British prime minister
  • JD Vance – Ohio senator
  • Tommy Tuberville – Alabama senator
  • Matt Gaetz – Florida congressman
  • Steve Bannon – podcaster and former Trump White House strategist
  • Dr Robert Malone – anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist
  • Kari Lake – Arizona candidate for governor and Senate
  • David Friedman – former US ambassador to Israel
  • Rick Santorum – former senator and presidential candidate
  • Ken Paxton – Texas attorney general
  • Lara Trump – Mr Trump’s daughter-in-law, endorsed by him to be the new co-chair of the Republican National Committee

Meanwhile, the small, anti-Trump wing of the Republican Party is holding a rival conference of its own in Washington, DC, between 23 and 25 February.

The group Principles First will host the event at the Conrad Hotel and will focus on “advancing a more principled centre-right politics in the United States” as well as “rebuilding principled leadership that serves our country—not partisanship or personality,” its website states.

Former congressman Adam Kinzinger is set to speak at that event, as is former federal judge Michael Luttig, Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson and conservative lawyer George Conway – all well-known anti-Trump conservatives.

“We look forward to bringing together conservative and independent speakers, thought leaders, and grassroots activists for three days of panels, speeches, networking, and discussion about how we can preserve America’s classical liberal tradition, the meaning of conservatism today and the future of our movement,” the site states.

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