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Trump yawn-fest at right-wing CPAC paints a grim picture for Republican Party

Trump yawn-fest at right-wing CPAC paints a grim picture for Republican Party
Former US president Donald Trump embraces the US flag after speaking to the 47th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in 2020. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Erik S. Lesser)

The run-up to Donald Trump’s first public appearance since he left the White House was preceded by days of speeches from right-wing ‘populist’ politicians trying to out-Trump each other. But, most remarkable was that this rambling, bitter old man had ever taken up so much space in people’s heads.

The six weeks since the Former Guy boarded Air Force One in disgrace and went off to stew at his country club Mar-a-Lago in Florida have been like a holiday in America. No more late-night Twitter rants, no more scapegoating of immigrants or black people or Asian Americans, no more brags about being the most wonderful president in history. The torment was over. Life was returning to normal. It was beginning to feel as if the previous four years had been a shitty dream that the country had just woken up from. America was back.

That was all about to be rudely shattered. Donald J Trump was to put in an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s annual conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida on Sunday.

But when he finally appeared, an hour late, what was most remarkable was that this bitter old man rambling and spewing falsehoods in front of his partisan fans had ever taken up so much space in people’s heads. He delivered a low-energy speech which, while it touched all the hate points, was a big yawn for most Americans, ignored on the cable shows apart from Fox.

A small man in a small venue with small ideas, said Jon Ralston, the most respected political journalist in Nevada.

CPAC used to be a fringe event – an opportunity for the far right to let off steam and for rising politicians to earn some street cred with the base. But times have changed. As the Republican Party has become ever more extreme the freak show has now become the main event.

The run-up to Trump’s first public appearance since he left the White House was preceded by days of speeches from right-wing “populist” politicians trying to out-Trump each other. A golden-coloured statue of Trump – much mocked on left Twitter as the golden calf of Baal that Moses destroyed as a false idol – was cheered as it was wheeled into the auditorium. Adoring members of the Maga cult gathered outside the hall waving their little American flags.

A gold statue of former president Donald Trump is on display at the Conservative Political Action Conference being held in the Hyatt Regency on 26 February 26, 2021, in Orlando, Florida. Begun in 1974, CPAC brings together conservative organizations, activists, and world leaders to discuss issues important to them. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The so-called conservative ideas inside the hall boiled down to a few simple propositions: the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and the far left and Big Tech are trying to silence and “cancel” their voices.

When he appeared, Trump delivered a boilerplate dishonest speech, filled with hatred and spite, crude attacks on immigrants and trans people and on the Biden administration. Biden, he said, had the “worst first month of any president in US history”.

Describing his own presidency, he declared that “there has never been a journey so successful”, despite the fact that under him the Republican Party lost both houses of Congress and the White House.

He called the election rigged as the crowd roared: “You won. You won.” He attacked by name all the Republican “traitors” in Congress – 10 in the House, seven in the Senate – who voted for his impeachment and conviction.

Hinting about running again in 2024, Trump said: “Who knows, who knows, I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”

So, what did we learn?

Perhaps most disturbing for the US, and for democrats everywhere, is that this dishonesty and vituperation finds such fertile ground in a radicalised Republican Party and that the party has such contempt for democracy.

One of the most prescient books of the Trump era was Everything Trump Touches Dies by former Republican operative Rick Wilson. The question, in the wake of the storming of the Capitol on 6 January 2021, was whether Trump would kill the Republican Party or democracy in the US.

For now, it looks like the Republican Party will be the first to go. The CPAC crowd speaks for the majority of the Party, three-quarters of whom believe the Great Lie about the stolen election. One of America’s two major parties has tied itself to a delusion that is unhinged from reality. It cannot end well for them.

Clearly, in the weeks since Trump incited an armed mob to storm the Capitol, and earned his second impeachment, the struggle for the soul – if that is indeed what it could be called – of the Republican Party is settling on the side of Trump.

Far from a new civil war in the party, the remaining “moderates” are drifting away. The party represents a minority in the country, a dwindling band of bitter old white men. That is who Trump speaks for.

The Republican Party realises that the only way to win when the country is growing younger and blacker and you are shedding support is to load the dice in their favour. Republican-controlled state legislatures are about to embark on an exercise in redrawing the map of congressional districts – colloquially known as gerrymandering – that could hand them enough seats to capture the House of Representatives in the midterms in 2022.

Following the high voter turnout in the 2020 elections, Republican states have, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, introduced at least 253 bills aimed at restricting access to voting. These provisions are targeted largely at black or minority voters, who vote heavily Democratic.

There is a long way to go and Trump’s legal troubles might yet land him in jail. But it is not beyond impossible that the flailing figure who turned up at CPAC on Sunday will be resurrected like Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and be the candidate in 2024.

Having worked hard to destroy the US during the past four years, don’t count him out from finishing the job in four years’ time.

Somehow, though, the sad spectacle at CPAC spoke of a different outcome. He looked for all the world like a spent force. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Coen Gous says:

    Mr. van Niekerk, that was a well-written article!

  • Rodney Weidemann says:

    “Somehow, though, the sad spectacle at CPAC spoke of a different outcome. He looked for all the world like a spent force.”

    We can only hope. I doubt the world would survive another four years with this narcissistic lunatic at the helm…

  • Memphis Belle says:

    Not true. I listened to the speech and it bore almost no resemblance to the above. This was the opinion of many others too according to multiple US news reports.

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