CPAC brings simmering GOP tensions to the surface

Trump's dark "retribution" speech at CPAC reveals that Republican reunification may be too hard to pull off by 2024

By Heather Digby Parton


Published March 6, 2023 9:16AM (EST)

People arrive at the Conservative Political Action Conference 2022 (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida on February 24, 2022. (CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)
People arrive at the Conservative Political Action Conference 2022 (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida on February 24, 2022. (CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Last Friday I took a look at the first day of this year's CPAC gathering where it was obvious that the attendees were overwhelmingly Trump followers but the crowds were also thinner than usual, which says something —but nobody can agree on exactly what it is. Since that dispatch reporters and other observers of the event have characterized this CPAC as an unusually desultory affair that didn't improve much as the days wore on. Speeches were sparsely attended and the presentation was lackluster. Everyone seemed bored with the outrage.

Could it be that after seven long years of Trump-style politics, they're finally getting worn out?

According to this report from Laura Jedeed at The New Republic, attendees she spoke with felt that having the event in Washington was a mistake. They suggested that instead it should have been held in Orlando, as it was last year. After all, Florida is now the center of the Republican universe. Florida Governor Ron Desantis, the new GOP dreamboat, didn't show up, instead opting to spend the weekend at a donor retreat, signaling that he didn't think it was worthwhile to mingle with the MAGA faithful. Apparently, he believes that his record of destruction in Florida will be enough to bring them into his fold.

Jedeed also pointed out that CPAC has competition from the more exciting Turning Point USA confab called AmericaFest. She describes its December event as "a bacchanale, an indoctrination session: ComiCon for politics nerds" where "speakers emerged onstage to thundering bass, a light show, and often pyrotechnics." Poor old CPAC could only come up with this:

The GOP has been declared to be cracking up many times and it didn't happen so I'm not going to suggest that. But the truth is that there is a growing schism around the Trump cult of personality and many of the rest of the party who are anxious to move on. It's not about ideology, around which the aspiring presidents club is pretty much in agreement: "woke" is bad, China is bad, Democrats are bad and America First blah, blah, blah. What's starting to happen is some very serious infighting and calamity among important players and it includes the right-wing media apparatus as well as the political actors.

We all know about Fox News' implosion with their Dominion libel case revelations. But as Jedeed reports, there is also the implosion of Project Veritas, this throwdown between the Club for Growth and CPAC, the Matt Schlapp sex scandal, a feud between  The Daily Wire vs Stephen Crowder and more. Despite the reluctance of those who are running or planning to run in the GOP presidential primary to take on Trump directly, it's only a matter of time before full-scale war breaks about among them. Trump has already declared war on on the GOP establishment which probably illustrates the current state of the GOP better than anything else:

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Needless to say, the Big Lie about the 2020 election also remains in circulation, especially by Donald Trump. And the list of lies in his big final speech of the event was even longer than the cumulative total of everyone else's. That's just to be expected. His plodding yet angry speech went on for 90 minutes and he did not seem happy, most likely because the not-very-big room was only three-quarters full. It was a very dark speech. He claimed that "for seven years he had been engaged in an epic struggle to rescue our country from the people who hate it and want to absolutely destroy it" and promised, "we started something that was a miracle. We're going to complete the mission, we're going to see this battle through to ultimate victory." But the line that will be remembered in the history books will be :

In 2016, I declared: I am your voice. Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution.

He's not making any bones about the fact that he's running to wreak revenge on his enemies, and they are legion. 

He also said we are going to have WWIII but also that he's the only one who can prevent WWIII. He promised, "before I arrive in the Oval Office, I will have the disastrous war between Russia and Ukraine ended... I know what to say." Sure he does.

His crowd seemed happy enough to see him. But it wasn't the delirious love fest we would have seen a couple of years ago. I have to wonder what would have happened if he'd decided to deliver a speech with the theme of his latest video instead of the negative pile of grievance upon grievance. The video is called, "A New Quantum Leap to Revolutionize the American Standard of Living"

He wants to use federal land to create 10 new "freedom cities" where "hundreds of thousands of young people and other people — all hard-working families — a new shot at homeownership and in fact, the American dream."There would be "baby bonds" to create a new "baby boom" (no doubt so immigration can be blocked) which he characterized in his typically crude way in the CPAC speech:

He also wants to invest in flying cars and tear down ugly buildings in a beautification campaign.

This is what passes for Trump's "positive agenda", which he just mentioned in passing in his dark "retribution" speech at CPAC. Would it have resonated better these days than his usual litany of complaints and threats? I don't know. The right has been addicted to grievance for a very long time. But from the sound of it this event didn't thrill the folks like it used to. With all the infighting and angry diatribes against "wokeness" you have to wonder if this Disneyfied, fascist "Tomorrowland" vision of the future might be the antidote. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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