Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday February 26, 2021
CPAC and the New Republicanism
The golden statue of the former president being wheeled through the halls of the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday may have been a touch on the nose, considering the obvious Old Testament allusion.
But if you were looking for clues about the direction of the Republican Party after the Trump years, an effigy of Donald Trump in an American flag bathing suit may be as symbolic as any golden calf.
In recent years, CPAC has evolved from a family reunion of Republican libertarians, social conservatives and a hawkish foreign policy establishment into Trump-chella.
This year has been no exception, with speaker after speaker focusing on the pet issues of the former president. “Are your votes being distorted?” one ominous video asked, flashing photos of President Biden on the big screen. Mr. Trump plans to address the crowd on Sunday and anything he says about his future political ambitions will inevitably overshadow the entire event.
Yet, the former president may not end up running again — continuing legal issues could kill his bid — but there’s little question that he leaves the party reshaped in his image. Even though Mr. Trump often failed to articulate a comprehensive policy doctrine, he has fundamentally remade what being a Republican means.
That shift was made strikingly clear in the remarks of politicians who hope to lead their party into the future — with or without Mr. Trump.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a rock star in conservative circles right now, laid out a pretty concise summary of the new conservatism in his speech on Friday: Anti-“adventurism” abroad, anti-big technology companies, anti-immigration, anti-China and anti-lockdowns.
“We cannot — we will not — go back to the days of the failed Republican establishment of yesteryear,” he said, proclaiming Florida to be an “oasis of freedom” in a country suffering from the “the yoke of oppressive lockdowns.”
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who opened his remarks with a jokeabout his much-criticized trip to a Cancún resort, cast conservatives as Jedi “rebels” against the “rigid conformity” of the socialist left — a call to arms at an event steeped in complaints of cultural victimhood. This year’s conference is titled “America Uncanceled.”
But Mr. Cruz also had a message for members of his own party.
“There’s a whole lot of voices in Washington that want to just erase the past four years, want to go back to the world before,” he said.“Let me tell ya right now: Donald J. Trump ain’t goin’ anywhere.”
Josh Hawley, a junior senator from Missouri, after defending his efforts to contest the election results as “taking a stand,” proclaimed a “new nationalism” that included breaking up technology companies, standing up to China and tightening borders. The “oligarchs” and “corporate media,” he said, want to divide Americans with “lies” like systemic racism. Hours before his speech, Mr. Hawley announced legislation requiring a $15 minimum wage for corporations with revenues over $1 billion.
None of the men, it’s worth noting, made any reference to Mr. Biden, a sign that the party continues to lack any cohesive line of attack against the new administration.
But what was equally striking is how far the speeches differed from traditional Republican ideology. A party that has defined itself as defenders of the free market now believes big technology companies wield too much power and the government needs to put more restrictions in place. Concerns about interventionism abroad have replaced hawkish doctrine as the driving foreign policy force. Nativism has gone mainstream and the politics of cultural grievance, focused heavily around race, dominate among conservatives that once delighted in mocking sensitive liberal “snowflakes.” (Continued: NYT)