The Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, is an annual event held every year by the American Conservative Union. Branded on its website as “the largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world,” the four-day conference is a hub for conservative activists to gather, listen to an array of speaker and promote conservative ideas. But as the Republican Party has shifted further and further to the right over the past decade, CPAC has followed suit. What was founded as a beacon of traditional conservative values has turned into a far-right spectacle dominated by ideologues and extremist ideas that have no place in the American political mainstream. This dangerous trend was put on full display this past weekend at CPAC 2023, which represented the low point of the continuously declining conference.
The overall theme of this year’s conference could only be described as “Ultra-MAGA.” Since his meteoric rise from Diet Coke connoisseur to somehow having access to the nuclear codes, Donald Trump has dominated CPAC for the last few years. Trump worshiping is expected at this point at CPAC, but this year took it to a whole new level of “Trumpiness,” for lack of a better term. The conference was filled with his most misguided and loyal followers dressed in MAGA hats who steadfastly defended Trump as the only option for 2024. A set of Trump’s oval office was set up so attendees could take pictures sitting at his desk acting like they just fooled millions of working-class Americans into voting for them. Even the merchandise exhibited a high level of Trumpiness, as the conference was stocked with a gaudy amount of merch and apparel only rivaled by the UConn Bookstore. Essentially, this wasn’t CPAC anymore — it was Trump-PAC.
With the mood set and the Kool Aid drank, the stage was set for Rosie O’Donnell’s biggest fan to electrify a packed house of adoring fans. The result? Trump spoke to a conference hall that wasn’t even full. But that didn’t stop him from launching into an hour and 45 minute tirade that sounded more like an obnoxiously long Facebook post by an angry boomer than a speech by a former president — although Trump is a boomer so it checks out. He spoke of the “freaks, neocons, open border zealots and fools” of the old Republican Party that he single-handedly destroyed, and of the “importance” of the MAGA movement winning in 2024. He included his usual ranting about the “dangers of the radical left” and other fearmongering statements about those who don’t kiss the ground that he walks on. He also included a laundry list of false statements, including claims of how great the economy was under his presidency, his self-viewed strong foreign policy and his infamous border wall. Trump lied in his speech so much that even Congressman George Santos would be appalled. Nevertheless, the crowd ate it up like they always do and pledged further loyalty to Trump. The fact that Trump has been able to hold on to these people for so long is the real art of the deal.
But the ridiculous speeches full of lies, divisiveness and extremism were not just limited to Trump. Colorado’s least favorite Congresswoman Lauren Boebert ranted about diversity programs and called for the abolishment of “woke federal agencies.” I can only view this as her attempt to shut down her favorite agency, the ATF. Ted Cruz called for Dr. Anthony Fauci to be prosecuted, which is his coping mechanism for getting trolled non-stop on Twitter. And the formerly respected Elise Stefanik firmly cemented herself as a Trump acolyte by essentially echoing Trump’s speech. But the most shocking and ridiculous statement came when Michael Knowles of The Daily Wire called for the “eradication of transgenderism” — I’m not exaggerating this, he literally said that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.” Knowles’ statement was easily the most extreme and dangerous statement made at CPAC this year and shows how far right and out-of-touch the modern Republican Party has become.
Now, I can’t really say that I’m too surprised by anything that was said at CPAC this weekend. CPAC has been going steadily downhill towards the pits of Trump worship, but this was somehow more of a Trump-fest than ever, even as some in the party have begun to move away from Trump and towards “freedom advocate” Ron DeSantis. But remember this: If you think that CPAC 2023 was bad, just wait till the absolute dumpster fire that will be CPAC 2024: Trump today, Trump tomorrow, Trump forever.