After watching Donald Trump’s wildly applauded address to this year’s CPAC conference, I wrote an assessment at New York:
In his rapturously received 88-minute address to the 2021 CPAC conference on Sunday, former president Donald Trump didn’t give his listeners what so many of them wanted: a pledge to run for president again in 2024 (though he teased the crowd with his obvious availability). But he vented his outsized spleen fully, and left no doubt that the future of Trumpism will be its past, revived and vindicated.
Much of the speech was rehashed from the brag sessions of the 2020 campaign, treating his administration as one long parade of unprecedented triumphs on every single front. Accordingly, Joe Biden’s extremely brief presidency was condemned as the worst in history already thanks to the 46th president’s reversal of the policies of the 45th (especially on immigration policy), which were one long parade of unprecedented triumphs on every single front. Viewers were left with the distinct impression that a near-utopian future for the country would be as simple as the replacement of Biden with — well, if not Trump — then someone with exactly the same policies and sterling leadership qualities.In tune with the reactionary atmosphere of this and every other Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump suggested that resistance to the plans of the hated opposition was enough of an agenda. Twice he asserted that Democratic governance would put the country on a short road to full-fledged communism. But it was remarkable how little he bothered to outline any ideas for the future other than the restoration of the recent past.
The one exception was his bloody-shirt demands for “election integrity” legislation in every state, which included a universal revocation of no-excuse absentee balloting (and all in-person early voting, since he called for a “single election day”) and universal voter ID requirements. It’s an audacious proposal, considering that 13 states (including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin) carried by Biden already have voter ID requirements, and fully 34 (including 12 states carried by Trump) had no-excuse voting by mail before the COVID-19 pandemic and the marginal liberalization of deadlines and procedures that Trump blames for his defeat.
Apparently Trump’s “landslide” victory required tighter voting rules than the country has had for many years. It’s unlikely a return to the spirit of the days of poll taxes and literacy tests is going to pass muster with federal and state courts (Trump, of course, blasted the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court that included three of his nominees, for lacking the “courage” to overturn Biden’s victory). But Republican subscription to this terrible assault on voting rights is another way that GOP elected officials can bend the knee to Trump.
Other than voter suppression, the future of Trumpism as outlined by its founder seemed to revolve around vengeance against RINOs, the ancient conservative epithet that now seems to be defined strictly by a lack of loyalty to Donald Trump. To feral roars from the crowd, he named every single congressional Republican who voted for his impeachment or conviction, suggesting that all must go before the GOP would be able to match the communist-bent Democrats in viciousness and self-discipline.
It appears, then, that Trump has determined to ensure that Republicans go into 2022 and 2024 as a political force dedicated to the restoration of his legacy with or without his personal leadership. For the most part, the dominant ideological movement in the party and the hallowed conservative movement is his. Indeed, one of the more unmistakeable phenomena of CPAC 2021 is the extent to which Republican activists now treat the conservative and MAGA movements as identical. And if he chooses to keep control of both movements, who can challenge him? The obvious successor to Trumpism is ever more Trumpism, and the obvious successor to Trump is still Trump.