How CPAC has gone from 'serious and wonky' to increasingly unhinged and 'Trumpified': conservative

How CPAC has gone from 'serious and wonky' to increasingly unhinged and 'Trumpified': conservative
Donald Trump at CPAC 2019 (Creative Commons)

When white nationalist Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes says that his America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC) is badly needed because the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is too liberal, it is a wild claim because CPAC is way to the right of where it was 35 or 40 years ago. CPAC, founded in 1974 by the American Conservative Union (ACU) and Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), has become increasingly extreme along the way.

CPAC's first keynote speech, back in 1974, was given by then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan. It is hard to imagine the CPAC of the 1970s and 1980s hosting a far-right authoritarian like Hungarian Prime Minster Viktor Orbán, who was the guest of honor at a 2022 CPAC event in Dallas. But the more the Republican Party moved to the extreme right, the more that CPAC moved with it.

In an opinion column published by the Daily Beast on March 2, Never Trump conservative Matt Lewis examines CPAC's evolution and laments that 2023's "Trumpified" CPAC bears little resemblance to the "serious and wonky" CPAC of the 1980s.

READ MORE:CPAC official melts down over Joe Biden's 'semi-fascist' label despite its embrace of Viktor Orbán

"What a long, strange trip it’s been," Lewis argues. "CPAC and I were born the same year. In 1974, Ronald Reagan spoke at the very first CPAC gathering. He began by introducing three Vietnam POWs. One of them was, you guessed it, John McCain. In 2019, the ghost of John McCain was attacked from the stage of CPAC…. To be sure, CPAC speakers have long existed on a spectrum, somewhere between William F. Buckley and P.T. Barnum. But in the last dozen years or so — coinciding, it seems, with the election of Barack Obama, and then exploding with Trump's election — it began skewing very heavily toward the Barnum end."

Lewis notes that only 11 years ago, in 2012, he was CPAC's Blogger of the Year. And in the past, CPAC welcomed everyone from ABC News' Sam Donaldson to conservative columnist George Will. But those days are long gone.

"My conclusion is this: If you want to know what the conservative movement will look like in five years, look at what today’s CPAC hall is like," Lewis explains. "That is a scary thought, because if that analysis turns out to be true, Donald Trump is the GOP's future. After all, he's their celebrated hero. And with Ron DeSantis presumably sitting this CPAC out, he's the only game in town."

READ MORE: Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orbán rails against same-sex marriage in CPAC speech

Read Matt Lewis' full Daily Beast column at this link (subscription required).

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