The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held its annual multi-day confab at a resort outside D.C. starting last Wednesday. Needless to say, it was a celebration of President Donald Trump and his policies, which, ironically, aren’t all that conservative. Neither, of course, is Trump, whose protectionist tariffs, enormous increase in the national debt and embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin would shock the likes of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.
Not many of the events at this gathering were widely publicized but the speakers and topics chosen for presentation are instructive. As you might expect, there was ample railing against gun control, big government and abortion, mainstays with any gathering of the “right”. While the theme this year was “What Makes America Great” — it’s strongly voiced corollary was — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal and socialism will destroy America.
Mike Lindell, the founder and CEO of MyPillow.com provided some evangelical fervor to the CPAC event: “God answered our millions of prayers and gave us grace and a miracle happened on November 8, 2016.” “We were given a second chance —- to get our country back on track with our conservative values and getting people saved in Jesus’ name. As I stand before you today, I see the greatest president in history. Of course, he is — he was chosen by God.” Hmm.
Lindell was building on a January Washington Post interview with Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., another ardent supporter of the president. Falwell believes that it “may be immoral” for evangelical leaders “not to support” Trump based on all the good things Trump is supposedly doing for minorities and the poor. When asked whether Trump could do anything to lose his support, he simply responded: “No.” Falwell may well speak for most evangelicals and this type of blind allegiance is frightening.
The American Conservative Union’s Defender of Freedom award was presented to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) at CPAC for “his steadfast leadership in exposing how certain government officials attempted to suppress the election results of 2016.” Nunes is a Trump loyalist who vigorously defended the president by attacking the FBI and the Justice Department when he chaired the House Intelligence Committee during 2017 and 2018.
Former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, who is featured in Sinclair Broadcasting’s conservative programming, hammered socialism in his CPAC speech. “What is America’s biggest problem? Not socialism in Russia, but in America!” He claimed the Green New Deal was like a watermelon: “Green on the outside, deep, deep red on the inside.” His reference to communism was unmistakable.
As CPAC participants were aggrandizing the president on Wednesday, Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was trashing him in public testimony before the House Oversight Committee. During the hearing, he gave some good advice to his detractors, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and other Republicans: “I did the same thing that you’re doing now — people who follow Mr. Trump as I did, blindly, are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering [prison].”
The ominous warning in Cohen’s closing statement that day, however, overshadowed all that preceded it: “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.” Recall that Trump refused to acknowledge he would concede if Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election. Now, however, he’s the Commander in Chief.
If Trump attempted to stay in power after an election loss – or impeachment – he probably wouldn’t succeed. It would require support from the military, the Justice Department and the Supreme Court. Still, an attempted coup like this would further damage this nation’s reputation as a democracy well beyond the damage Trump has already done with his hip-shooting, “America First” style.
An article by former White House Counsel, John Dean, the star witness against President Richard Nixon during the Watergate hearings in 1973, added to the concern raised by Cohen. Dean checked with Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, to better understand what Cohen meant. According to Dean, Davis responded, “He [Cohen] was referring to Trump’s authoritarian mind-set, and lack of respect for democracy and democratic institutions.”
Mr. Dean had this chilling caution for his readers: “In fact, all Americans are affected by the growing authoritarianism that made Mr. Trump president. These people who facilitated his rise will remain long after Mr. Trump is gone. We need to pay more attention.”
Indeed, the radicals at CPAC who rail against the FBI, the Justice Department and call the Russia investigation a hoax are authoritarians much like Trump. They act as if Trump is above the law, choosing to malign his accusers instead of facing the real issue, Trump’s alleged criminality. They confirm that Trump is dominating the GOP. He and his base have congressional Republicans right where he had Cohen — left with little choice except to follow him and hope for the best — damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Aided by Fox News and the right-wing media, Trump and his Republican enablers are attempting to steamroll the American public with outrageous lies, conspiracy theories and aggressive pushback, casting themselves as victims and Democrats as villains. They will stonewall investigations, refuse document requests and subpoenas and throw rocks in the wheels of justice. But they will only succeed — if we let them.
As Dean warned, Americans need to pay more attention.