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CPAC and the end of the GOP

Throughout the campaign trail and immediately after the election, President Joseph Biden predicted that Republicans would have an “epiphany” about working across the aisle with a Democratic president. Both Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have claimed that America needs a strong Republican Party. Some of Biden’s most common calls have been for unity and bipartisanship, along with a frequent promise to restore the “soul of America.” In the month since taking office, however, Republicans seem to want anything other than unity. Just days ago, 210 of 211 House GOP members voted against the Democrats’ stimulus bill, with one––Congressman Bost of Illinois––not voting. Trump remains the most popular choice among Republican voters for the 2024 presidential race. Whatever moderate, bipartisan steps leading Democrats have made, the GOP leader reaction was to say that they never could have “imagined just how bad they would be and how far left they would go.”

If Biden, or anyone else in the nation, thought that the GOP’s degeneration towards far-right populism went away with Trump, then the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has a surprise for them. The CPAC, one of the largest annual conservative political gatherings in America, had an impressive lineup of speakers gathered over recent days in Orlando, Florida. It offered a glimpse into the present and future direction of the GOP. Before any speeches even commenced, however, CPAC faced its own publicity crises. On sale for $10,000 was a six-foot gold-painted fiberglass statue of President Trump wearing formal attire and flip-flops to indicate both the former President’s retirement and, as the creator put it, the fact that Trump “chose to be a servant.” This reverence for Trump and capitalization on his popularity contradicts the idea that the party might move past Trump or his ideals. The event’s straw poll indicated that 68 percent of attendees wanted him to run again, while 95 percent wanted the party to advance his ideas and causes. He had roughly 55 percent of the primary support, whereas Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, who came in second place, had 21 percent. No other candidate passed single digits. The GOP is clearly still the party of Trump.

Somehow, between the unveiling of the gold-painted affront to the concept of art and the main event, things got worse. The second major crisis was the stage itself, which was clearly shaped after the Odal Rune. The Odal Rune is a character from a thoroughly dead language, as well as one of the most popular Neo-Nazi symbols in the world. It’s been seen on Nazi uniforms to denote certain troops as well as at white supremacist protests and gatherings. Now it appears in the CPAC main stage. There’s an argument to be made that the design is simply a throwback to the original Odal Rune or that it’s disconnected from the modern meaning of the symbol. This is, of course, baseless, just as most remaining defenses of the GOP seem to be. The design is unique, to say the least. The emptied main shape, as well as the wings, both match the CPAC design stage perfectly and are so unintuitive for any form of construction that designing and approving it without being fully aware of its connotation would require an infant, a random line generator or someone with a similar lack of general awareness (such as Senator Ted Cruz). To any independent voter watching, trying to analyze whether or not the modern GOP is still the “fiscally responsible” party they once claimed to be, the headlines weren’t looking good––and the main speaker still hadn’t even started.

Between the Nazi-inspired stage’s unveiling and the closing remarks were several hours of pure lunacy. While Rush Limbaugh is, fortunately, dead enough that I’m spared another of his speeches, no shortage of speakers mentioned him. Ted Cruz praised Limbaugh extensively. This is unsurprising––Limbaugh, who said that “the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons,” was, as Cruz correctly pointed out, an architect of the GOP. Limbaugh’s ghost seemed to guide the speeches of the rest of the speakers, as if his overwhelming racism could not be contained by hell itself. Cruz advocated that the protesters from this summer be shot and laughed over the vacation he took while his home state was getting rocked by storms that killed eighty people and counting. Senator Josh Hawley claimed that “our inalienable rights to life and liberty come from God and not from government” and echoed the last few years of calls for a tighter border and slights against China. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton invoked the Black Lives Matter movement to claim that the overwhelmingly white, conservative audience may lose rights based on “the color of [their] skin.” Fortunately for my sanity, trying to cover all the revisionist, reactionary, ahistorical claims in any one of these speeches would max out the character limit of a document. Every speech rested on the same rhetoric, however: Radical liberals would destroy true American culture. 

Closing out the big event was the speech from former President Trump himself. He seemed convinced that he would be leading the party in 2024, claiming––to thunderous applause––that he “may even decide to beat [the Democrats] for a third time,” in reference to the ongoing myth that he won the 2020 general election. He called so-called moderate senators, such as Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, grandstanders and “little.” Both he and other convention-goers repeatedly pushed against these non-loyalists. His first post-White House address, much like his presidency, had thoroughly racist undertones. The 90-minute speech focused heavily on what it means to be a true American. Opening his address, Trump detailed how “America’s future, America’s culture and America’s institutions, borders and most cherished principles … our very identity as Americans is at stake,” and then immediately praised Rush Limbaugh and his widow. There were comments about the “China virus,” on technology companies, on almost every other contemporary issue, all tied back to immigration and the “struggle” for American culture. 

If this convention––attended by Trump, Cruz, Trump advisor Larry Kudlow and other GOP policy-makers and leaders––is the future of the Republican Party, then it seems to be a party distinct from anything it once pretended to be. If the leading Democrats keep seeking unity and a strong Republican party, what they’re really doing is allowing for white supremacy, far-right rhetoric and total incompetence to thrive. 

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