The 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is not the event many would probably have expected it to be, six months ago. To begin with, most of the attendees would likely have anticipated being addressed by the president of the United States. Another significant difference in the tone at CPAC, this year, which would likely have been different if Donald Trump was still in the White House, was one of defiance against the political establishment – which, make no mistake, includes the leadership of the Republican Party. That defiance was underscored by the fact that the GOP’s congressional leadership was not invited.
In previous years, the focus of the conference has tended toward grassroots action to advance conservative principles. This year, it has been, thus far, more a celebration of the liberties all Americans enjoy – or at least should enjoy. It has also been, to an extent, about self-reflection.
On the first full day of the event, Sens. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Tom Cotton, along with Reps. Matt Gaetz and Madison Cawthorn urged a more proactive resistance to the left. They spoke of refusing to apologize, of going further than just “react[ing] to what the Democrats do,” as Cawthorn put it, and, as Cruz said, having fun with it. “So many on the right, they act like they got a stick inserted somewhere it doesn’t belong,” the senator from Texas said. He is correct. At a time when the humorless statists on the left appear to be hell-bent on stamping out real comedy and just about any activity that might be considered fun, Cruz reminded the conference attendees that it was essential to maintain a sense of humor.
He even remarked that, while Orlando – where this year’s CPAC is being held – is nice, “it’s not as nice as Cancun.” It is worth noting that, as if to emphasize their lack of a sense of humor, leftists on Twitter were outraged by Cruz’s quip, according to Liberty Nation’s Jeff Charles.
It does appear that battle lines are being drawn, though not quite along the lines many expect. As Cruz pointed out, the media “desperately wants to see a Republican civil war.” While it is true that the Trump wing of the GOP is distancing itself from the party establishment – and vice versa – this is not where the boldest battle lines are appearing. This CPAC is not pitting Republicans against Republicans, but those who want to preserve liberty against those who think the very idea of liberty is a threat.
To quote Cruz again – in what may have been the most important line of CPAC day one: “The message of liberty is profoundly subversive.”
To be sure, this is also very much a pro-Trump event. The former president will address the conference on Sunday, February 28. He remains not only the leader of the conservative movement but the dominant figure in Republican Party politics. Those GOP elites who were not welcome at this year’s event turn their backs on the former president at their peril, as they well know – or, at least, as some of them do. Others, such as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) are maybe too full of themselves to understand.
Now, more than ever, perhaps, the conservative and libertarian movements, bound by the common thread of wishing to preserve constitutional freedoms, find themselves in uncharted territory. Though repression and the denial of rights – including for political reasons – are not new to Americans, the political right-wing has probably never been more clearly defined, by its own government, as a dangerous and subversive entity. The message the CPAC attendees need to take away with them should be that the political war that has been declared on them will not be won by merely repeating that tedious mantra: “We’re better than that.”
Read more from Graham J. Noble.