By Sid Schwab / Herald columnist
If last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference is representative, the formerly respectable Republican Party is done.
CPAC was a festival of white grievance, denialism, big lies and bigger conspiracies, and tortured attacks on liberalism. Pretending that sometimes-stupid but often-appropriate (like when Fox canceled O’Reilly) “cancel culture” is a greater threat to America than covid-19, climate change, or Trump’s sedition. What there wasn’t, except for ways to keep Democrats from voting, was policy. Meanwhile, Democracy-protecting House Democrats passed a bill making voting more accessible to all eligible citizens.
Featuring no actual conservatives, CPAC welcomed heroes of the election-canceling insurrection. Cruz, Hawley, Brooks. Paul Gosar, fresh from speaking to a white supremacist rally. Young Madison Cawthorn, who entered politics Trumpically, with lies, phony accusations and demonizing his opponents. It was a retinue of retrogression.
Then, the big finish: Trump. Caring less for God’s First Commandment than the founders’ Second, the flock idolized him in a much-selfied, gilded, Bob’s Big Boy simulacrum, amusingly made in China. After 90 minutes of unearned boastfulness, repeating his debunked, judicially-rejected election lies, and decrying “cancel culture,” Trump listed political opponents he wants canceled. Standingly, the audience ovated. We love you, they testified. You won, you won. (tinyurl.com/trumpcalf)
They love the lifelong conman who made the pandemic worse, the contrast to whose uncaring mismanagement of vaccine distribution is stark, compared to President Biden’s effective guidance. Who, with his current wife, received the vaccine in secret, presumably to avoid publically debunking his dishonesty about covid-19. The man who told them the lies they wanted to hear and fueled their Foxified resentments since before he was “elected.” Hyping donations to his personal PAC, his control of which is total, he dangled a run in 2024, which will end when he’s grifted enough easy money from the beguiled. In mere days, he’s already garnered millions.
If CPAC is today’s Republican Party, we’re all in big trouble. If it is, our best years, leading the world in nurturing democracy, innovation, overcoming daunting challenges, and fulfilling dreams are behind us. Then, there were two conscientious, opposing but intellectually honest parties. Then, American democratic republicanism depended on and did damn well with it. Now, always delighted to approve budget-busting tax breaks for the wealthy, not a single House Republican voted to provide pandemic relief to those in need. Accomplishing nothing but delaying the help, Sen. Ron “Small” Johnson required the 700-page bill to be read aloud. Perhaps he can’t read. In any case, helpful Republican participation is no more.
No one looking for good governance could have found it at CPAC. Absent ideas, “cancel culture” was endlessly looped, (“Freeeedummmb,” screeched Crazed Cruz) to keep the masses from noticing the competence emanating, after a four-year absence, from the White House (tinyurl.com/tedscream) (Noted, with irony: the decision to stop publishing a few Dr. Seuss books, met with choreographed rightwing outrage, was a free-market, unregulated, capitalist business decision, made entirely by the publisher.)
What are conservatives to do? If CPAC is the Republican Party, they have no place in it. Surely, they can’t countenance Republican leadership of Texas and Mississippi, the two states most severely affected by bad governance during the big freeze, and, despite remaining near the top in coronavirus deaths, the first fully to reopen. Could they rationalize aping Mitch McConnell, who unequivocally called out Trump’s culpability for the insurrection and the lies that led to it, after voted to acquit, suggesting America’s criminal justice system is the remedy; and now says he’d support Trump if he were the 2024 Republican nominee? In what way is it conservative to say, sure, the man is a dangerous, mendacious, anti-democracy criminal, but of course I’d support him?
Presumably, Trump’s promise not to start a third party was greeted with relief by McConnell. Or, more likely, resignation. Because while Mitch recognizes the debasement Trump has wrought upon Republicanism, he understands he has nowhere else to go. So he’ll stay with the party, 62-percent of whose members say they either won’t or have serious reservations about getting vaccinated. The majority of whom believe the outrageous lies he, McConnell, decried, who’ve proudly renounced reality. Nearly all of whom revere the man whose malfeasance he confirmed to the world.
Unchanged, Republicans will have a steadily diminishing role in the future of our country, except to the extent they may rob us of one. It’s a swamp from which there seems no escape for real conservatives. Let’s hope they find one anyway. Proposing serviceable solutions to the existential problems we face, rejecting McConnell’s obstructionism, shrinking Trump’s CPAC into a cultish anachronism: that’d be a hopeful start.
Email Sid Schwab at email@example.com.