Before Donald Trump arrived on the scene, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was an event where a virtual who’s who of Republicans and other faux conservatives would gather to defend conservatism. After Donald Trump, the annual gathering became a four-years-long celebration of Trumpism and nationalism, and CPAC 2021 is in trouble as a result.
CPAC is facing repercussions for compromising conservatism for a seat at Trump’s table, especially after his reelection failure, his attempt to steal the election afterward, and the army of Trumpist Republicans who took part in challenging the election results on January 6, which led to an attack on the Capitol by a group of QAnon radicals and other Trump loyalists.
As a result, plans for CPAC 2021 are falling apart while advertisers and speakers rush to the exits to escape the organization’s affiliation with Trump.
Normally held near Washington D.C. — the conference was moved to Florida to be closer to Trump and, allegedly, to avoid COVID restrictions in Maryland — CPAC reached its zenith in 2020 when nationalism replaced conservatism as the theme, and a lineup of Trump loyalists and other sycophants preached the organization’s faux conservative gospel.
In addition to Trump himself, CPAC 2020 featured more than 30 Trump aides and officials ranging from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to senior White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Josh Hawley was a speaker and used his time to spread America First nationalist propaganda, and he participated in a panel discussion to address the question, “What’s the Right Path Forward on Big Tech?” The panel also featured Donald Trump, Jr. and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy.
Faux conservative media was also well-represented by the likes of Mark Levin (pro-Trump echo chamber BlazeTV), Dan Bongino, Diamond and Silk (pro-Trump podcasters), and radio host Buck Sexton (a regular guest host for pro-Trump big-talkers like Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck).
Despite claims to the contrary by American Conservative Union chairman and CPAC host Matt Schlapp, CPAC 2021 is in trouble. Politico.com reports:
President Donald Trump’s election loss has created hurdles around programming and guest booking.
Previous sponsors aren’t yet committed or have decided to forgo sponsorship entirely because of changes to the event’s format or disappointment in the return on their investment last year. And the president that attendees adored so much may not show up to the event at all.
Senior Trump adviser Jason Miller said Trump, whose Mar-a-Lago abode is less than 2.5 hours away from the Orlando hotel where this year’s conference will occur on Feb. 25-28, is not currently scheduled to make an appearance. Meanwhile, a senior American Conservative Union official would not answer whether Mike Pence, who drew MAGA world’s ire for certifying Joe Biden’s election, had been invited to speak. A spokesperson for the former vice president did not respond to a request in time for publication.
ACU Chair Matt Schlapp said he is convinced this year’s conference will be no different from past years. “CPAC is going great,” he told POLITICO on Tuesday, before then saying that his quote needed to be attributed without his name. Schlapp did not address questions about why some sponsors were not continuing their CPAC sponsorship.
Schlapp wasn’t too happy about being forced to defend his Trumpism, and after refusing to answer POLITICO’s questions — including a question about how Jan. 6 Capitol riot might have impacted sponsor’s decisions to be involved with CPAC 2021 — he played a Trump card and threatened the news outlet with a lawsuit.
ACU general counsel David Safavian is accusing POLITICO of “tortious interference with business relationships” and attempting “to ‘cancel’ both CPAC and the American Conservative Union itself.” The group then tweeted a copy of the letter from Safavian that included his litigation threat.
— ACU (@ACUConservative) January 26, 2021
With only weeks to go before the conference is set to begin, the conference is still looking for speakers and sponsors — not exactly a good sign that “CPAC is doing great.”
A full agenda and list of speakers will be posted two to three weeks before the conference begins, according to the CPAC website, but several past speakers contacted by POLITICO said they were still deciding whether to attend given the added distance and the possibility that Congress could be in the middle of negotiating another coronavirus relief package in late February. An aide to Donald Trump Jr. said he would “probably” attend, as he has done in past years, but that it was not currently on his schedule.
CPAC organizers did announce three speakers after POLITICO began inquiring about the lineup. In separate tweets on Tuesday from the @CPAC2021 Twitter account, it was revealed that former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell, former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a possible 2024 hopeful, would all deliver remarks at the conference next month. No other speakers have been announced as of the time this article was published.
As of today, the CPAC 2021 Speakers page says, “The latest CPAC 2021 speakers will be available soon.”
CPAC planners should be worried about more than whether Trump will be there or not, they should also be worried how Trumpism and nationalism have destroyed CPAC, also they should decide right here and now that Trump will no longer dominate the event as he has over the past four years.
According to one person involved with the planning of CPAC 2021, this year’s theme will focus on the fundamentals of conservatism as opposed to any individual political figure — much as the organization did during the Obama years. The event will allegedly focus on topics such as the rule of law, protecting the legislative filibuster, the current structure of the Supreme Court, defending the Electoral College, and a few others.
Don’t be fooled. This “new” theme isn’t new at all. These are the issues conservatives have always defended — at least they did before Trumpism and nationalism replaced conservatism — and still defend today. CPAC, like the Republican Party itself, is simply parroting old talking points used to deceive voters into supporting them. It will disappear once the next faux conservative arrives on the scene.
For the record, I ceased having anything to do with the formerly conservative organization in 2017 when Schlapp turned CPAC into an arm of the Trump propaganda machine and started using the annual conservative gathering as Trump campaign rallies beginning in 2018.
After four years of Trumpism and nationalism, CPAC 2021 is in trouble. And Matt Schlapp, along with the rest of his organization, has earned every bit of it.
David Leach is the owner of the Strident Conservative. He holds people of every political stripe accountable for their failure to uphold conservative values, and he promotes those values instead of political parties.