The War of 2020 is raging at CPAC. The annual four-day Conservative Political Action Conference of activist Republicans, taking place through Saturday at National Harbor, Md., is the best place to measure the vital signs of a GOP on the attack — message, energy and confidence.
Let’s start with the message: CPAC’s theme emblazoned everywhere from the lips of each speaker is “America vs. Socialism.” During a one-minute chat with Matt Schlapp — the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC — I told him it was a great theme. He thanked me and said it was his idea. But America vs. Socialism is more than just a terrific, easy-to-remember 2020 message. It sets up the “Us vs. Them” warring factions for the battle to reelect President Trump.
At CPAC, here is the simple underlying message repeatedly voiced from the stage, paraphrased in two sentences: “We Republicans represent all that is good in America. The Democrats want to destroy all that is good.” Moreover, if you needed one word to summarize the “zen” of CPAC, that word is “fear.”
For further elaboration, scroll through CPAC’s agenda and read the titles of the speeches and breakout sessions. Here are a few of my favorites:
“The Fate of Our Culture and Our Nation Hangs in the Balance” — Rep. Dan Crenshaw (TX-2)
“Stopping Socialism: Exposing and Defeating the Socialist Plot to Hijack America” — sponsored by The Heartland Institute
“Freedom of Speech in America… And How We are Losing It” — sponsored by Freedom of Speech in America
“Black Guns Matter: Living Conservatism Courageously”– Maj Toure
“Because Trump: How the Left Justifies Acts of Violence,” — a panel discussion moderated by Julio Rosas, Townhall.com.
“Why the Left Loves Open Borders” — sponsored by The Heritage Foundation
“Culture Jihad: How to Stop the Left From Killing a Nation” — Todd Starnes
CPAC’s agenda is also chock-full of Trump administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, Cabinet secretaries, the acting White House chief of staff, campaign high-command (Brad Parscale), and family crowd-pleasers Donald Jr., Ivanka, Jared Kushner, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Lara Trump and many more. On Saturday afternoon, the king of “T-PAC,” Donald J. Trump, is scheduled to appear.
ueling the America vs. Socialism message is energy and confidence from the packed ballrooms and hallways at the massive Gaylord Hotel. The buzz is “Four More Years,” uttered with great conviction and a “nothing can stop us” attitude. Even folks I spoke to who are not 100% in love with the president all have a similar mindset: “Consider the alternative.”
Election night predictions range from Trump winning 48 states to simply more states than he won in 2016.
Having attended CPAC since ancient times (pre-internet and social media), I have never observed a crowd this much in lockstep, inhaling the smell of victory. (For comparison, compare ‘What I Learned at CPAC 2019.”)
Every year CPAC grows larger and becomes more of a spectacle. Even the lone heckler at vice president’s speech on Thursday was a Trump look-a-like who was escorted out of the packed ballroom to chants of “USA! USA!”
There are thousands of “Trumplicans” networking and having a grand old time with the Grand Old Party, now unrecognizable to most grandfathers. Colorful characters abound, many wearing provocative T-shirts. My favorite slogans were “Deplorable Lives Matter” (worn by a white male senior citizen) and “Ban Commies Not Guns” (adorning a young man with a yarmulke on this head).
For sale was Trump merchandise of every imaginable variety, enough to fill a small CVS, but the glittering Trump ballgown on display was not for sale. A transgender 6-foot-5 “Lady MAGA” paraded around the lobby with long blond hair and wearing a red-white-blue tutu and red 8-inch heeled knee-high go-go boots.
A few more observations:
The age of attendees is trending older. CPAC used to be a mecca for college and young Republicans, but now there is an equal number of “senior” passes around wrinkled necks.
There is chatter about what is next for the party if Trump wins or loses in November. Will the GOP separate into factions? Will the Trump family members run for office? Will Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo battle it out in 2024? What about Nikki Haley? After Trump, will the GOP be as split as the 2020 Democrats are now?
But those questions are in the future. All that matters now is America vs. Socialism and a message that appeared on the screen from the speech by Rep. Dan Crenshaw:
“We win by telling the right story of America.”