Politics

CPAC: This Is Definitely the Bad Place

A travel diary from day one at CPAC.
March 1, 2019
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(Photos by Gage Skidmore)

I was a little late for my first day at CPAC because the American Conservative Union hosts the conference at the Gaylord national resort and conference center, which is a super convenient $60, 40-minute Uber ride from actual Washington D.C. When I got there a woman was on stage chanting, “Roe Must Go.”

I took my seat in the back of the auditorium in the fake news section. After the “Roe Must Go” lady left the stage, on came Oliver North.

If you’re of a certain age, you may remember Ollie North for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, which involved the covering up of selling weapons to people America wasn’t supposed to be selling them to. Well, Ollie is now the head of the National Rifle Association and, by total coincidence, the NRA now seems to have taken money from people they weren’t supposed to, also. Life is funny that way in Conservatism Inc.

Ollie told the audience to “pray for the NRA.” Which is a little strange. Apparently, his God cares about the well-being of non-profit organizations dedicated to political lobbying. But they need it! Donors showered the NRA with $163 million in 2015. That total dropped to $128 million in 2016 and then $98 million in 2017. If things keep going like this, then NRA TV might have to cut back from the 18 people it currently lists as programming “hosts” to 17, or maybe even 16. And then, how will the Second Amendment survive?

Because this is all about the Constitution, people!

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After Ollie North, Scott Walker came across the stage and the crowd seemed to have graciously forgiven his one-time apostasy now that he has bent the knee to Trump. But the thrice-elected former governor of Wisconsin was just a warm-up act for the real future of the Republican party: Charlie Kirk.

Kirk is something of a paradox. He’s a college dropout who travels the country trying to indoctrinate college kids into Trumpism. And after he’s lured them in, he seals the deal with “big government sucks” t-shirts and a complete lack of self-awareness. At CPAC, he put me into something of a rage when he claimed that “One of the things that Donald Trump has done is he has not changed the left—he has revealed them. This is who they have always been. They have always hated this country.” But then, I realized that you could say pretty much the same about Trump and conservatives.

Kirk was followed by the dragon of Budapest, Sebastian Gorka, who lectured the crowd about how socialism is bad and how Democrats love to kill babies. But the best part of Gorka’s rant against the evils of liberalism was when he said “They want to take your pickup truck, they want to rebuild your home, they want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved.” I know you should never argue with a doctor—even a fake doctor—but I’m pretty sure Stalin’s dreams were a good deal bigger and that he achieved pretty much all of them.

If we were going to take Dr. Gorka seriously (or literally), then his equation of Democratic nanny-state politics—whatever you think of it—with the murder of 20 million Russians would be idiotic, grotesque, and evil. But of course, no one here does take him seriously. Probably even him. He’s just working his act, like everyone else.


Speaking of people working their acts, if there’s anyone taking advantage of the poorly educated Trumpkins, it’s the My Pillow guy, Mike Lindell. The backstory of the My Pillow guy is that he got sober from crack by getting into Jesus and then Jesus got him into Donald Trump. (Apparently, God is really into the nuts and bolts of conservative politics.) Lindell has an amazing mustache and he has recently made an abortion movie called Unplanned, which he screened at CPAC, because synergy. But Lindell was extremely upset that his movie had been given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America. Weirdly, he did not ask the audience to pray for the MPAA.

Ronna “Don’t Call Me Romney” McDaniel almost made some news by seeming to encourage a primary challenge when she taunted John Kasich by saying that he has “a right to jump in and lose.” There were a bunch really boring panels, including one on how bad the deficit is because, again, these people have neither self-awareness nor a sense of irony.

But the highlight of the hellscape was seeing Laura Ingraham attempt a comedy set. Laura said that Democrats want post-birth abortions and made a number of extremely unfunny jokes about Jim Acosta and yet as much as conservatives goof on the Daily Show, the audience responded with rote clapter.

Whoever told Ingraham she ought to tell jokes should be sent to the Hague.


CPAC is a magical place where college dropouts lecture college students, where millionaires beg for prayers for their success, where soda-bans are likened to the Red Purges. Even the laws of space-time are warped at CPAC so that the hours sometimes feel like weeks, or months. By the end of the first day I felt as though I’d been there all my life.

I was looking forward to a special evening of partying at a champagne reception called “AmericaFest” that was going to be hosted by Turning Point USA. I’d dutifully purchased my ticket ($80) ahead of time and gotten my confirmation. Donald Trump Jr. was supposed to be there. You can imagine my excitement.

But toward the end of the day, I got a mysterious email: My ticket had been rescinded. My $80 refunded. No explanation. No nothing. I suspect the kids at Turning Point thought better of letting me in. Which is fine, I suppose. But it is a little strange for an outfit that claims to be so dedicated to the hurly-burly of free speech and capitalism.

Then again, we live in difficult times and even Conservatism Inc. needs a safe space.

Molly Jong-Fast

Molly Jong-Fast is a contributor to The Bulwark and the author of three books. Follow her on Twitter @MollyJongFast.