CPAC, the four-day-long Conservative Political Action Conference, wrapped up on Saturday at the Gaylord Resort in National Harbor, Maryland. The event, which felt like an extended rally for President Donald Trump, was full of speakers who seemed to share the same set of talking points. The names that earned the most applause were the largest personalities, people like Diamond & Silk and Judge Jeanine Pirro.
Though there was plenty of genuflecting toward Trump (and occasionally Ronald Reagan), the speakers were also more than eager to go negative on the stage. I was at the convention, on assignment for Playboy, and here were the biggest verbal punching bags of CPAC.
Socialism was the catch-all dirty word of CPAC that dropped at a head-spinning pace. The Democratic party was painted as socialist without abandon. During his speech on Friday, Mike Pence outlined the progressive platform and declared “that system is socialism.” Trump’s National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow gave an entire speech that was premised on the mantra that we need to “put socialism on trial.” It was a line that he repeated throughout his address until he closed with “put socialism on trial and convict it!”
Sebastian Gorka declared that “40, four-zero, Democrat candidates in the last midterm election called themselves socialists.” Diamond & Silk, who were the headliners one night, shouted that “socialism … will drive us back to the days of slavery.”
And during his speech on Saturday, President Trump bellowed “we believe in the American dream, not the socialist nightmare!”
The attacks on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were an evolution of the constant criticisms of socialism, but they were so frequent and colorful that AOC deserves her own category. There were cardboard cut-outs of AOC at the two main afterparties put on at CPAC. At the party hosted by Turning Point USA, which was attended by Donald Trump Jr., Congressman Dan Crenshaw, and Ted Cruz, somebody scribbled pendeja — which loosely translates to asshole — on AOC’s forehead.
spotted at turning point USA’s party
holy shit pic.twitter.com/WMUmadmrDB
— aída chávez (@aidachavez) March 1, 2019
On stage, the speakers doubled down.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a panel, “AOC, we can’t take her for granted,” suggesting that the Republicans should use the freshman congresswoman as an illustration of socialism.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham declared in her speech that AOC “is the thought leader of the Democratic party.” But perhaps the most absurd AOC shoutout came from Liberty University president Jerry Fallwell Jr., who seemingly threatened to shoot the congresswoman, saying after a discussion about guns, “just let Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez show up at my house and try to take my cows away.”
I repeatedly remarked throughout the conference that I’ve never encountered a group of people who hate college more than the speakers at CPAC. On Thursday, there was a three-part panel titled Sue the U in which speakers complained that colleges were going out of their way to censor conservatives. In a bashing bit about socialism, Charlie Kirk declared “college campuses are a harbinger of things to come, college campuses can tell you they’re the leading indicator of exactly the ideology and the viewpoints that will soon be held.”
On Saturday, Trump announced that he was signing an executive order “requiring colleges and universities to support free speech,” whatever the hell that means.
Abortion and Planned Parenthood
Abortion was a favorite attack-point of the CPAC speakers, but that was mostly because of the timing of the conference. Over the past month, Virginia Democratic governor Ralph Northam made comments that Republicans say endorsed infanticide. On a national level, Democrats in the Senate blocked the Born Alive bill, a complicated measure that Dems feared could be used to prosecute abortion providers and Republicans said was about preventing infanticide.
When asked about abortion, one panelist on the main stage said “we have some blood-thirsty Democrats.”
Third-trimester abortions are incredibly rare, in 2015, the CDC found that less than 1.3 percent of abortions are performed in the third trimester. But if you were watching CPAC speakers, you would have thought that all abortions were late-term. Candace Owens declared “in New York City, for those of you who don’t know, more black babies are aborted than born alive.” Ted Cruz said that the Democrats “are now for late-term abortion until the moment of birth or if you’re Ralph Northam after birth.”
The things we didn’t see
I was very surprised by how few references I heard to Hillary Clinton, who has been the regular applause line that spurs “Lock her up” chants more than two years after the election. The only speaker that I saw who talked about Clinton was Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton, who told the crowd “there will be more accountability for Hillary Clinton.”
Immigration was also a rare topic, but that’s probably because the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC, doesn’t have immigration as a major part of its platform. The only speaker who I noted that talked at length about immigration was Michelle Malkin, a columnist for the racist blog VDare, who complained that “the most important issue that we face is immigration and we need to be talking about it more than one panel in twenty minutes.”
The Russian investigation was also a noticeably infrequent punchline. Maybe that’s because Robert Mueller keeps arresting and convicting Trump aides or because CPAC was all about cultural red meat and Russia doesn’t play as well as a dunk on Ocasio-Cortez.
The only speaker who I saw that talked in-depth about the Mueller probe was the subject of it: Donald Trump.