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CPAC Opens With Sucker-Punch to GOP


You probably thought, given the banishment of moderates from its ranks, the current incarnation of the Republican Party is a pretty conservative enterprise. Well, not conservative enough, it turns out, for the denizens of the alternate universerse occupied by attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

This morning's session kicked off with an address by Marco Rubio, the Tea Party-favored candidate in the Florida primary for U.S. Senate -- and the candidate not favored by the GOP establishment, which has put its money on Gov. Charlie Crist.

Rubio played on his Cuban heritage to suggest that President Obama was seeking to turn American into just the sort of country his parents fled after the communist revolution launched by Fidel Castro.

A former legislator in the Sunshine State, Rubio was followed on the CPAC stage by Tea Party fave Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who is proving to be a big, thick thorn in the side of GOP leadership, having launched his own political action committee to fund Senate candidates -- often those who challenge the party establishment candidates.

"I'd rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who believe in the principles of freedom than 60 who don't believe in anything," DeMint told the cheering crowd, amid exhortations for him to run for president.

Like Rubio before him, DeMint evoked the specter of despotism by the Democratic president. "America," DeMint said, "was teetering toward tyranny."

Pay attention to that word, "tyranny." On the right, it's a dog whistle, a justification for the threat of armed insurrection, if not the genuine article. But with so many among this crowd being fierce advocates of the right to bear arms, and the Tea Party movement's links to the Patriot movement, it's an inciteful whistle to blow.

Among the favorite quotes spouted by members of the Tea Party and Patriot movements is the Jefferson aphorism, "The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed, from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants." When you hear members of the right decrying what they call "tyranny" -- in this case, the government's support of the banking system, the automotive industry and the Democrats' attempt to reform the health-care system -- they're laying the justification for violent overthrow, at least tacitly.

Other highlights so far include Liz Cheney's speech, in which she accused Obama of wanting to "grant Constitutional rights to foreign terrorists" -- uh, actually the Constitution confers constitutional rights on foreign terrorists who are arrested on U.S. soil -- and her calling her father, who recently admitted to being  a big proponent of waterboarding, to the stage, to the wild cheers of the crowd. Darth Cheney was a surprise guest, not on the agenda, and though he offered little new in terms of rhetoric, he did say that the enthusiastic reception he received was almost enough to make him consider running for office again -- but not really. The crowd's disappointment with that last part was audible.

In between, Dick Armey harangued both Republicans and Democrats, saying of the president, "You have no ability; you only have talent." You know, just like what white chauvinists used to say about black jazz musicians, who were all supposed to be idiot savants.

Here on Planet CPAC, the surreal is the real.  Two tables away, Andrew Brietbart is holding court.

William Temple, the guy who shows up at all the Tea Party rallies dressed in full Revolutionary War regalia, is here, of course. (My interview of him at the Washington premiere of "Tea Party: the Documentary Film" is here.)

I stepped out for a smoke after the Cheney speech, and an elderly woman, all smiles, sidled up to me and said, "Such nice surprises!"