The More Things Change…

Crying Elephant in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Image by Lenny Ghoul.

CPAC has returned, as it does every year around this time. As it has every year since the election of Donald Trump, it promises to present a mixture of conveniently simplistic rhetoric mixed with insane conspiracy theory. Long gone are the days when political theory would be discussed, left by the side of the road in favor of constant praise of Dear Leader.

There has always been a strong undercurrent of a political rally involved in the gathering; that happens whenever a group of activists gather. And there has always been a willingness among some attendees to accept a degree of extremism. There was a reason that Pat Buchanan won the annual straw poll in 1992, after all.

The days of it being the bastion of young conservative thought were over long before Trump was elected, though. The conference was always focused on giving the grassroots and youth a voice in the party, but it was also designed to provide lessons from experienced speakers. It might be useful to read a book by William F. Buckley, but it was more instructive to be able to ask him questions and probe why he said and thought as he did.

That element of CPAC was in decline a quarter century ago, and was effectively eliminated by 2010 in favor of a lineup of “stars”, people who would bring listeners into the seats. To a large degree this was precipitated by the advent of the internet age. There was no longer much reason for a serious scholar of conservative thought to attend CPAC, not when they could simply e-mail someone like Thomas Sowell or Antonin Scalia and reasonably expect to get a reply either from one of their aides or the person themselves. Instead the focus shifted to that of a rally for the most fervent among the faithful. If that faith included people who thought that Lincoln should have been imprisoned for his actions to save the Republic… well, at least they were paying customers.

Money was important. In 2010, CPAC picked up a new sponsor: the John Birch Society. The people who had been famously pushed from the party by Buckley and his allies were not only back, they were being welcomed as a key membership for the conference which was designed to groom future Republican leaders. Let the crazies have their say; after all, they have cash. And who’s going to listen to them?

If the speaker list had included the best and brightest among conservative philosophers, that argument might have held some weight. Instead, they were simply the most prominent Republican pundits and politicians: Michelle Bachman. Mike Pence. Marco Rubio. Ron Paul. Dick Armey. Newt Gingrich. The conference began with clips from the previous year’s keynote speaker Rush Limbaugh and ended with 2010’s keynote speaker, Glenn Beck. The prominent politicians were still there, whether trying to push their upcoming runs like Marco Rubio or trying to present the viewpoint of experienced lawmakers like Dick Armey, but the thought leaders had been replaced by cheerleaders.

This is why the same group that picked Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and Mitt Romney to be their standard bearers shifted to consistently choose Ron Paul and Donald Trump. Ron Paul, who left the Republican Party for a while because he so despised Reagan and Trump who spoke against Reagan at the behest of Congressional Democrats are not representative of historical Republican thought, but they were not simply embraced but elevated by a deeply corrupted institution.

The gathering isn’t what it was, but it is what it’s been for more than a decade. The craziness on display this weekend is neither new nor surprising. But CPAC was forced to shift the venue this time, from the Washington D.C. area to Florida. It’s not carrying the weight it used to, nor is it drawing the sponsorships or attendance from prominent lobbyists.

This year’s events are unlikely to do anything but further tarnish its already diminished reputation. The organizers may think they can thrive despite such headwinds, that this year won’t produce any video which will haunt them or lead to their eventual downfall.

Anyone remember RedState Gatherings?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.