Republicans are holding their big show in Orlando this weekend. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is where the cream of the crop chart the party’s course. A straw poll is taken to assess future leadership hopefuls.
A star of the show for many years was Mitt Romney, the standard bearer against Barack Obama in 2012. But this time, having voted in favour of Donald Trump’s impeachment, the senator from Utah couldn’t even get an invitation.
“We won’t credential him as a conservative,” conference chair Matt Schlapp said. It’s good Mr. Romney is staying away, he added, because if he came, “I would actually be afraid for his physical safety.”
Such is the rueful plight in today’s Republican Party of a moderate high-minded conservative. CPAC is so overwhelmed by Trump torch-bearers and blowhards that it might as well be called, as some are saying, TPAC.
Also persona non grata is Nikki Haley, Mr. Trump’s former United Nations representative, who has been touted as a leading candidate to top the party ticket in 2024. She should have been a keynote speaker. But she castigated Mr. Trump, saying he took the party down a path it should not have followed. She then tried to arrange a meeting with the demagogue at Mar-a-Lago. He snubbed her. The conference is doing the same.
The agenda features several panels and speakers who will uphold Mr. Tump’s fantasyland claim that he won the election. None of the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment are among the 47 Republican members of Congress slated to speak.
Some have suggested the Grand Old Party faces an identity crisis. If so, it’s hardly evident. CPAC is further evidence that the identity is crystal clear. It is a Trump personality cult.
During the last month, the time has been ripe to make a break from him. Mr. Trump had suffered a series of defeats that would vanquish any mortal. He lost the election, he lost the party’s Senate majority, he was banned from Twitter for his outrageous posts, he suffered a second impeachment in the House of Representatives, he fomented a bloody riot at the citadel of American democracy.
But no desertion of any magnitude has occurred. As absurd as it may seem, Mr. Trump’s failings have cemented his hold on the party’s rank and file as well as its lawmakers.
Remarkably, his strategy of turning truth on its head in claiming the election was stolen from him has worked. It has found millions of believers. It is an example of what Barack Obama says is an “epistemological crisis” facing the country, one in which the people find it increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Even Mr. Romney concedes that Mr. Trump looks untouchable. “I don’t know if he’s planning to run in 2024 or not, but if he does, I’m pretty sure he would win the nomination,” he said. Mr. Romney, who was denounced by Trump supporters on a recent flight to Washington, is falling in popularity. Polls show he is far more popular among Democrats.
Those calling for new party leadership face the risk of challenges in primaries for their seats. Trump detractor Adam Kinzinger, the congressman from Illinois, has just received such news. Former Trump adviser Catalina Lauf has announced she will take him on, tweeting “Fake Republican Adam Kinzinger won’t put AMERICA FIRST– I will.”
Given that the next election is so far off, obviously much could change. But Mr. Trump is taking the meaning of Teflon man to an entirely new level. If he doesn’t seek the presidency again, his influence over the party base is such that he could well be in a position to anoint a successor. Critics look to the possibility that his legal afflictions will catch up to him to the point where he is incarcerated. But that could have the impact of making him a martyr who, when freed, emerges as a conquering hero.
Many see Donald Trump Jr., the hot-blooded son, as being interested in making a run for the party nomination. He will speak at the conference. Other presidential aspirants on hand include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
They will all be singing from the Trump hymnbook. If not, given the current climate in the GOP, they can kiss their chances goodbye.
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