CPAC: The Trumpists take over
“Conservatism is dead,” said E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post, replaced by a Trumpian far right that officially “has the Republican Party under its thumb.” At last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) outside Washington, D.C., a stream of extremists and ethno-nationalists held court, most notably French National Front regional leader Marion Maréchal–Le Pen. Dissent from Trumpism was swiftly shut down: Conservative writer Mona Charen had to be escorted from the premises by security after she dared to criticize Republicans for showing indifference to the sexual harassment allegations against Trump and Roy Moore. Trump gave his own “horrendous” speech, said Philip Klein in WashingtonExaminer.com, reciting a song called “The Snake” to warn against unchecked immigration and encouraging the crowd to boo his cancer-battling GOP critic, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). As a once-proud Republican, “it’s heartbreaking to witness the darkness that movement conservatism has descended into.”
“Let’s not pretend that CPAC just got wacky this year,” said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. Since its 1974 debut, the annual conservative shindig has featured speakers “who raged against gays, Muslims, and immigrants.” Kooky libertarian Ron Paul frequently won the conference’s presidential straw poll, and birtherism and climate-change denial have been regular themes. The difference is, in years past, mainstream Republicans managed to “contain, cool, and generally outvote” those extremists. “Now CPAC encapsulates the GOP.” If establishment conservatives are horrified by this development, said Rod Dreher in TheAmericanConservative.com, they have only themselves to blame. Over the past 40 years, movement conservatism has consistently failed to address the concerns of the GOP-voting middle class—particularly over immigration. The fact that populist figures like Trump and Le Pen are now dominating the conversation “has a lot to do with” those failures.
Why do these shifts at CPAC matter? said Osita Nwanevu in Slate.com. “Despite its circus-like atmosphere,” the conference remains “a critical part of the conservative movement’s infrastructure”; what happens there filters down into state and local organizations, including publications, think tanks, and campus groups. Right now, it looks like the tweedy, William F. Buckley–loving Never Trumpers have either been exiled or have “self-deported”—leaving the extremists in charge. “CPAC is their party now. So, too, is the GOP.”