I lost three and a half days of my life at CPAC so you didn’t have to.
I arrived Wednesday afternoon at National Harbor (a short 40-minute Uber ride from Washington DC) for CPAC. It was my first conservative political action conference and I had somehow convinced myself that this trade show with white nationalists (Faith Goldy was there but not speaking, so that’s something) would be fascinating and enlightening.
Yes, I had been warned by some of my friends that things had gotten very Trumpy at CPAC and I might need a strong stomach or some extra acid reflux medicine, but I was sure they were just being overly dramatic. Yes, America had entered a time of extreme partisanship and yes, we were a country deeply divided by the insanity of Trumpism — but surely things couldn’t possibly be as bad as people said.
A GOP “never Trump” friend warned me before I set off that the director of CPAC, Matt Schlapp (husband of White House strategic communications adviser Mercedes) had gone full-on Fox host Lou Dobbs (the president’s most vehement, most deranged cheerleader) in his defence of Trump. Still, I had no idea how devoid of rational thought CPAC really was. I did not expect to spend three and a half days living in a handful of the most paranoid GOP talking points.
The first talking point that everyone from Vice President Pence to fired White House adviser “Doctor” Sebastian Gorka kept hammering away at endlessly was that all Democrats want to turn America into Venezuela (they don’t). Gorka took it a step further when he said, “They [Democrats] want to take your pick-up truck, they want to rebuild your home, they want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved.” It was a fascinating new scare tactic which I assume must have originated in the 2016 idea that Democrats want to take away your guns and snowballed from there.
The second favoured GOP talking point that many of the speakers hit on was that Democrats want to commit infanticide. Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said, of late-term abortion, “By the way, it’s not live-birth abortion. It’s not infanticide. It is murder if you take the baby home and kill the baby at home, it’s murder.” The president’s large adult son (Donald Trump, Junior) said Democrats support “post-term abortions”. Post-term abortions, for those of you who are playing at home, are not a real thing.
We were lectured about the United States constitution by the National Rifle Association’s president Ollie North (who better to lecture about the constitution than the guy who was indicted on 16 felony charges for his involvement with the Iran Contra scandal?) You may also remember the NRA has had some issues with receiving money from Russia, but don’t worry too much about that.
We were lectured about values by the president’s son, who is currently living with his girlfriend after reportedly cheating on the mother of his five children.
It’s possible that the most CPAC moment of CPAC came from the president of the United States, one Donald J Trump, who spoke for over two hours on wide range of completely nonsensical topics from wall-building to his electoral college win. Trump called the Russia investigation “bullshit.” He led a spirited chant on “lock her up,” more than two years after the election. “You know, I'm totally off script right now,” he added. We could tell. It was one those endless, meandering Trump speeches where normality goes out the window — he even made fun of the southern accent of his former AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions.
In other words, I spent three and a half days sitting in an enormous auditorium in Maryland, listening to a smouldering ash heap of Trumpian shills who constitute what is left of the Republican party. Conspiracy theories were batted about, Democrats were accused of doing many immoral and fictional things, there was talk of Hillary Clinton’s emails — but in the end I couldn’t shake the feeling that Republicans were actually really scared.
When CPAC head Matt Schlapp introduced Donald Trump, he said several times that the main room was standing-room only, which was sort of true as they had opened a standing section, but the area was not at capacity and the overflow room was almost empty. Then there was the crowd itself, which seemed kind of sleepy. A feeling of “Jeb Bush’s famous low energy” permeated the gathering and the speakers seemed enraged but at the same time weirdly helpless.
More alarming for the future of the Republican party was the fact that all of it rests on one man, Donald J Trump, who has now proven himself to be — how do I say this delicately? — verging on completely insane.
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