There was a time when the annual gathering of young activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was so hawkish you would have thought they were all going to rush out the door and enlist in the Marines demanding to be sent into the most dangerous foreign war zone they could find to fight for God, Mother and Ronald Reagan. Even though they rarely actually enlisted, they believed that it was their duty to pound their chests and insist that we needed to "fight 'em over there, so we don't have to fight 'em over here" whether it was Communists or terrorists. Those days are over, I'm afraid.
It's not that the attendees have transformed into peace-loving flower children. They are as hostile and aggressive as ever. But today's CPAC activists have turned their focus inward and are convinced they are literally fighting for their lives here at home against what they see as a Communist 5th column (also known as the Democratic Party) and the "invasion" allegedly being waged daily along the southern border.
This year's gathering in Florida, home of Dear Leader Trump, just happened to fall on the opening days of Vladimir Putin's brutal invasion of its neighboring country, Ukraine. One might have expected that the speakers, at least, would feel it necessary to at least address this issue, seeing as it's the first major land war on European soil since World War II, affecting 44 million Ukrainians and millions more in surrounding countries. On the first day, however, there was hardly a peep in defense.
Two of the big marquee speakers, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Senator Ted Cruz didn't mention the war at all. (In fact, DeSantis didn't even mention Trump at all, which I'm sure did not go unnoticed down the road at Mar-a-Lago.) DeSantis threw out a ton of red meat to the crowd however, such as, "if Biden is dumping illegal aliens into FL from the southern border, I'm re-routing them to Delaware --- we'll do some to DC and Hollywood as well." But his only foray into foreign affairs was to say that if it hadn't been for Florida in the pandemic the US would be like Australia and Canada today which may not be the winning applause line he thinks it is considering the much lower death tolls in those two countries.
Ted Cruz served up his tired, unctuous podcast act calling White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki 'Peppermint Patty,' saying he can't wait until next January when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will fly away "on her broom" and then led the crowd in a lusty chant of "Let's Go Brandon." The crowd loved it which says more about their taste in comedy than it says about him.
The final speaker of the night, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, did bring up the Ukraine war, saying that President Biden is weak and should "open up American trade energy." He later told CBS News Correspondent Bob Costa that he also believes the US should withdraw troops from Europe altogether because we have to fight China which doesn't sound like a very sophisticated understanding of global affairs.
RELATED: CPAC opens and immediately devolves into GOP dissent over Ukraine
Reports from the floor show a consensus among the crowd that while it's unfortunate that Putin has invaded Ukraine it's not something we should be concerned about when our own border is supposedly under siege. This parallel between the two situations was repeated by many people. For instance, Buzzfeed reported:
"[Ukraine's] something that's important," Rodney Perez said. "I think more so our southern border, I think that's the probably most important for our country right now, what's going on. We're being invaded."
Charlie Kirk, a conservative activist, said, "The U.S. southern border matters a lot more than the Ukrainian border." He added: "I'm more worried about how the cartels are deliberately trying to infiltrate our country than a dispute 5,000 miles away, cities we can't pronounce, places that most Americans can't find on a map."
Of course, this was something that Donald Trump had said earlier in the week when he was lavishing praise on Vladimir Putin and indicating that he wished he could stage such a smart and savvy military operation down at the Southern border.
There isn't a lot of consistency among this group, with some saying we're being invaded while others say we should invade, but there's one thing they all agree on: America has gone completely to hell in a deplorable hand basket.
RELATED: Putin leaves Republicans splintered and confused
CPAC's 2022 conference is dubbed "Awake, Not Woke," which gives you a clear idea of what the right-wing really cares about. There were no dry panels on taxation or health care. They aren't bothering anymore with ideological discussions about Russell Kirk. It's all culture war all the time. Here is a sample of the panels this year:
"The Moron in Chief"
"Put Him to Bed, Lock Her Up and Send Her to the Border."
"Lock Her Up, FOR REAL"
"School Boards for Dummies"
"Domestic Terrorists Unite: Lessons From Virginia Parents"
"Lock Downs and Mandates: Now Do You Understand Why We Have a Second Amendment"
"Are You Ready to Be Called a Racist: The Courage to Run for Office"
"Obamacare still kills" (just for old times sake)
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That's the Republican agenda, right there.
And here's just one example of the tone of the conference from the speakers:
Rolling Stone correspondent Steven Monacelli live tweeted from the conference and I think his post featuring the trailer for a new film starring CPAC organizers Matt and Mercedes Schlapp called "The Culture Killers, the Woke Wars" sums it up.
So it's wrong to say that these activists aren't hawkish just because they don't care that Vladimir Putin has launched an unprovoked war against Ukraine. They are as bloodthirsty as ever. It's just that the war they want to fight is within their own country.