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CPAC Rehabs Trump as Master of the GOP

For the Trump-faithful, the event was a raging success.
February 28, 2021
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ORLANDO, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 28: Former U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held in the Hyatt Regency on February 28, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. Begun in 1974, CPAC brings together conservative organizations, activists, and world leaders to discuss issues important to them. (Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty)

By the time former President Donald Trump finally arrived at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday afternoon, the crowd and all the media covering the event were primed and ready to receive and broadcast his message: Donald Trump is a winner, always has been a winner, and could be a winner again.

The event was a total circus, of course. Political watchers spent the days ahead of Trump’s remarks deservedly mocking the “golden calf” shaped into Donald Trump’s image and wheeled around the convention center. They jeered at how stupid Ted Cruz looked trying to scream his way into grabbing headlines. The freshly pardoned Roger Stone danced in the streets.

For the Trump cultists, it was a ton of fun. But, the joke isn’t on them. The event was a raging success for the disgraced president. Thanks to CPAC, the one-term, twice-impeached former president who oversaw the loss of the White House, the Senate, and the House and whom Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated was “morally responsible” for the violence that unfolded on January 6 is now rehabbed as the glorious leader of the Republican party.

Trump may have been silenced on Twitter, but CPAC proved that plenty of other voices are willing to sing his song. In just a few weeks after the Trump-loyal mob brutalized dozens of police officers and stormed the Capitol in hopes of preventing Joe Biden from becoming president, CPAC staged an incredible display of grassroots and establishment support for the man 84 million Americans rejected in the 2020 election.

Being a loser never felt so good. This year’s CPAC has successfully galvanized the dilapidated husk of the GOP behind Trump.

Backbenchers in the House of Representatives skipped votes on COVID relief, pleading “the ongoing health emergency” so they could play hooky and pay homage to the golden king. McConnell, anticipating Trump’s revival at CPAC, ate his previous misgivings about Trump and told Fox News on Thursday that if Trump won the GOP nomination for president in 2024, McConnell would “absolutely” support him. The names of those GOP apostates who dare vote to impeach or convict Trump were booed in the ballroom, as Trump listed them one by one.

As usual, CPAC conducted a straw poll for the next presidential election. Potential 2024 GOP candidates such as Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Mike Pompeo didn’t play to win the straw poll—they played for scraps. The results were released on Sunday, just before Trump spoke: He won with 55 percent. (68 percent said they wanted him to run again in 2024.) The second- and third-place finishers far behind him? Only the Trump-thirstiest: Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

Game, set, match.

Before Trump even took the stage, GOP Rep. Jim Jordan declared that “President Trump is the leader of the conservative movement, he’s the leader of the American first movement, he’s the leader of the Republican party . . . and I hope on January 20th, 2025, he is once again the leader of our great country.”

See, Trump got everything he wanted, long before he even spoke.

When Trump made his long-awaited arrival, more than an hour late, it didn’t even matter what he said. The stage was set. The cameras were trained on his lectern and his audience was assembled, ready to chant and praise his name. Trump’s followers had already swallowed the big lie that he never really lost the 2020 election, and when Trump said what they all were waiting for—“Who knows? I may even decide to beat them for a third time” in 2024—they cheered. As if he never lost the 2020 election.

The election was rigged,” Trump said—and the crowd chanted, “You won! You won!”

Trump described his political career as an “incredible journey” that is “far from being over,” pledged that “we will be victorious and America will be stronger and greater than ever before,” and said the Democrats only won the election because they “used COVID as a way of cheating.” And throughout, the crowd lapped it up.

CPAC served its purpose. CPAC forced the GOP to fall in line and the world to pay attention. CPAC gave Trump a warm forum for authoritarianism. And, thanks to CPAC, the big election lie is intact.

It’s as though the insurrection never happened—or if it did, it just doesn’t matter.

Donald Trump remains in control of the GOP.

Amanda Carpenter

Bulwark political columnist Amanda Carpenter is a CNN contributor, author, and former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz and speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint.