At CPAC, It’s Now an All-Trump Show

At CPAC, It’s Now an All-Trump Show

OXON HILL, Md. — Donald J. Trump was still a New York businessman when he was booed at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015 after he proposed fighting ISIS with troops on the ground in the Middle East.

Flash forward five years, and there was no room at the annual conservative conference this week for booing of anything related to President Trump, including the procession of his adult children and their spouses who appeared here on Friday to bash socialism and make the case for his re-election.

CPAC has been transformed from a gathering of libertarians where establishment Republicans mingled with fringe conservative activists into a stage for Mr. Trump and his top advisers and allies to road-test winning messages for the campaign trail. Republicans not on board with defending the president and his agenda, like Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, were disinvited from the conference this year.

“We need a CPAC full of happy warriors ready to deploy across the country!” Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee announced from the stage on Thursday, reminding the audience to “make certain we have four more years of President Donald Trump!”

The crowd roared.

Earlier in the day, K.T. McFarland, a former deputy national security adviser, recounted her ordeal testifying in front of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. “You do not want a government that will do to you what they did to me,” she warned the crowd. “Do not give your country over to these people.”

The stated theme of the four-day conference, “America vs. Socialism,” was meant to fire up Mr. Trump’s base in an election year and ferment distrust of Democrats and the mainstream news media. High-ranking members of the Trump administration did their part.

Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, blamed journalists for exaggerating the seriousness of coronavirus because “they think this will bring down the president. That’s what this is all about.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joked that he would not be distributing copies of his remarks because “Nance the Ripper is still on the loose,” a reference to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who showily tore up a copy of Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address this month.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and free-floating adviser, made an appearance during which he joked that if Mr. Trump “starts campaigning on the wheel, the Democrats will be allergic to wheels and try to ban wheels from America.”

Mr. Trump will return to the conference on Saturday, but he was well represented, as he has been for the past four years at the conference.

“We have almost every member of the Trump family,” Matt Schlapp, the chairman of CPAC, said in an interview in the conference’s green room, where Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, his girlfriend and the national chairwoman for the Trump Victory Finance Committee, mingled before taking the stage.

There, Ms. Guilfoyle went on to describe the Democratic presidential field as “little wayward children in the playground running around with their pajamas on backward.”

“This seems to be the place to be,” Mr. Schlapp said.

It certainly was for Naomi Seibt, the German teenager who denounces “climate alarmism” and has branded herself as the “anti-Greta” activist in opposition to Greta Thunberg. She attracted attention when she attended the conference this week and praised Stefan Molyneux, a white nationalist Canadian blogger who for years has posted YouTube videos that appear to promote the concept of “white genocide.”

“I am still a fan, absolutely,” Ms. Seibt told Business Insider when asked if she still counted Mr. Molyneux as one of her “inspirations.”

For never Trump conservatives, however, the experience of attending the conference was lonely and disheartening.

“CPAC should have really been a wake-up call to me about what was going on in the party,” said Lucy Caldwell, an adviser to Joe Walsh, the former congressman from Illinois who briefly challenged Mr. Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.

“It used to be a place where the radical fringe could kind of let their hair down amidst think tank people and mainstream Republicans,” said Ms. Caldwell, who attended the conference for the first time in years. “Now, it’s their house.”

Indeed, the crowd booed at the mention of Mr. Romney’s name from the main stage. Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, a group that reaches out to young conservatives, encouraged the negative reaction.

“Every time his name is mentioned, you should respond that way,” he said.

Mr. Schlapp had earlier expressed concern over Mr. Romney’s “physical safety” if he showed his face at the event. In an interview, Mr. Schlapp clarified that there had never been physical violence at CPAC. But he said he decided to disinvite Mr. Romney after he voted to convict Mr. Trump on one impeachment charge, based on a “guttural” feeling.

“Nobody here wants to see him,” Mr. Schlapp said. “People are raw about the fact that he did us dirty on that vote. He’s a conservative when it helps him in a primary. The rest of the time, he seems to be dissing us.”

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