Republicans get ball rolling as Trump waits in the wings
Senators mingle with men in fancy dress at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland. By John Bowden
Celebrities of Trumpworld descended upon Maryland’s National Harbor this week for a three-day bash in every sense of the word.
Donald Trump has top billing, delivering the conference’s headlining speech this evening. But while praise for Trump and a rallying cry for 2024 are a central part of the latest
Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), they are far from the only emotions in the air.
There is also a deep anger: at Democrats, for the policies of Joe Biden and liberals in general; at the federal government, for bureaucracy they argue caused America to suffer for two years while thousands died from Covid; and at the media, which they argue is a tool of the Democratic Party. A related gripe from many is the apparent blacklisting of election deniers by big right-wing networks such as Fox News and Newsmax.
Some, such as podcaster and noted sidewalk-parker Sebastian Gorka, were utterly hamfisted in their critiques. He was spotted yelling at The Bulwark’s Tim Miller that he was “fucking fake news” and should “go to hell”, before telling The Independent’s correspondent that he should “get a real job”.
Others were a bit more subtle, if only just. Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy appeared onstage in front of CPAC’s main audience on Thursday and implied directly that the court overseeing Dominion’s suits against his company and Fox News was corrupt.
Dominion is suing Fox and Newsmax for repeating false conspiracy theories suggesting the company secretly switched votes from Trump to Biden in the 2020 election. (The media companies insist they did nothing wrong, citing their right to report Trump’s phoney accusations under their first amendment rights.)
“If we were not in a Delaware court … small state, liberal, Democratic state, the Biden family’s close with everybody there … If we were in federal court, this thing would be on the way to being thrown out,” Mr Ruddy insisted.
Diehard Trump loyalists were treated like celebrities in the halls on Thursday, with throngs approaching various Trumpworld figures such as Kimberly Guilfoyle to hand over trinkets and pamphlets.
One of those with the most star power was MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, one of the top purveyors of conspiracies about the 2020 election. Mr Lindell spoke to The Independent about the chilling effect that Dominion and Smartmatic’s lawsuits had on conservative networks that previously platformed his evidencefree claims about massive numbers of votes being supposedly flipped in Joe Biden’s favour by their voting machines.
“Once Smartmatic sued Fox News on February 4 of 2021, all the other media, conservative media, that would be Newsmax, Salem media, Fox News … none of them talk about things that matter,” Mr Lindell complained, referring to the supposed need to “get rid of the electronic voting machines”.
“Melt ‘em down, make ‘em into prison bars,” he quipped, before adding that the US media was “horrible”.
CPAC’s increasingly rightward tilt makes for a somewhat disjointed scene, split between the suit-and-tie-wearing DC crowd and the “trip to the circus” vibe evident outside any Trump rally. Where else can you find senators mingling next to a man dressed in a brick-and-mortar “build the wall” novelty suit?
One of those senators who strode through the hall of Trump costumes was Senator Rick Scott, fresh off a failed leadership challenge to minority leader Mitch McConnell that was rewarded with his removal from the Senate committee on commerce, science, and transportation.
Mr Scott denied to The Independent that he was following the Dominion case as it progressed against Fox — as well as the
embarrassing revelations about the network’s hosts — while outlining his idea for what conservatives and right-leaning media should focus on ahead of 2024.
“I think we have to focus on the issues that are great for Americans,” he said. “We have to focus on, how do we build a better economy? How do we make sure kids get a great education? How do we make sure people live in safe communities? If we do that, Republicans are doing the right thing. That’s what I think people care about.”
What nobody seemed eager for was the kind of mud-slinging primary that preceded Trump’s 2016 nomination.
Trump fans who spoke to The Independent were hesitant to attack Florida’s Ron DeSantis, seen as the unspoken main challenger to Mr Trump’s bid for the 2024 Republican nomination. Likewise, Mr DeSantis’s supporters, at least those at CPAC, all seemed to be still on the Trump train as well.
Real America’s Voice host Grant Stinchfeld identified himself as firmly on Team Trump. But in a conversation about the 2024 primary, his most serious criticism for DeSantis – whom he called the best GOP governor in the nation – was that he should “wait” a few years before pursuing his obvious national ambitions.
“Conservative media, I think we’re doing a pretty good job. What I would like to see is [for us to] not attack each other,” he said in an interview.
“There is strength in numbers, every single conservative voice out there, we need each other,” Mr Stinchfeld argued. “And so you know, in conservative media, partnerships are great. Don’t attack each other. Don’t have infighting, and just push the truth.”
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