What happens if you hold a Conservative Political Action Conference and no one shows up?
Here is McKay Coppins at The Atlantic:
The right-wing-merch retailer’s setup was among the most impressive at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference—a gargantuan display of apparel and tchotchkes meticulously curated to appeal to every segment of the Donald Trump–loving clientele. There were the make america great again hats in “classic” red for those who prefer a timeless look, and the ultra maga 45 hats for the more trend-conscious. There were T-shirts with Trump as Superman and T-shirts with Trump as the Terminator and—because even the most patriotic T-shirt designers eventually run out of ideas—T-shirts with Trump as the Geico lizard. (you can save 40% off everything by switching to trump.)
When I stopped by the booth on Friday afternoon, I noticed a smattering of non-Trump-branded products in the mix and thought I’d spotted a clever angle for a story.
“How’s the Ron DeSantis stuff selling?” I asked two people running the booth.
“Oh, good, another one,” the woman mumbled. “You’re the third one to ask today. You media?”
I nodded, feeling somewhat less certain of my cleverness, and sheepishly confirmed that I was a reporter. She seemed to stifle a sigh. “Not great,” she said, gesturing toward a cap that read make america florida: desantis 2024. “It’s about 50 to one Trump.”
As I turned to go, I heard her add, “But, I mean, we have a lot more Trump stuff …”
It was a perfect microcosm for CPAC’s strange vibe in 2023. Billed as the conservative movement’s marquee annual gathering, the conference was once known for its ability to draw together the right’s various factions and force them to compete noisily for supremacy. In the 1990s, Pat Buchanan rallied paleoconservative activists against the Bob Dole wing of the GOP. In the early 2010s, Tea Partiers in Revolutionary-era garb roamed the premises while scruffy libertarians hustled to win the straw poll for Ron Paul. Yes, the speakers would say controversial things, and yes, presidential candidates would give sporadically newsworthy speeches. But more than anything, it was the friction that gave the proceedings their electric, carnivalesque quality—that rare, sometimes frightening sense that anything could happen.
This year, that friction was notably absent. Trump, who jump-started his career as a political celebrity with a speech at CPAC in 2011, has so thoroughly captured the institution that many of the GOP’s other stars didn’t even bother to show up. Everything about the conference—the speakers, the swag, the media personalities broadcasting from outside the ballroom—suggested that it was little more than a three-day MAGA pep rally.
The result: In my decade of covering the event, I’d never seen it more dead.
Read the entire piece here. Damon Winter’s photo essay at The New York Times is also worth a look.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.