Things sure have changed at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
Donald Trump pulled out of a scheduled speech at the event in 2016 because, he revealed last year, “I was worried that I would be, at that time, too controversial. We wanted border security. We wanted very, very strong military. We wanted all of the things that we're going to get, and people consider that controversial.”
Now, CPAC is lending its platform to a political figure who is perhaps even more controversial, particularly on the issue of border security: Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, scion of an ultranationalist political dynasty in France.
Maréchal-Le Pen is the niece of Marine Le Pen, who lost France's presidential election nine months ago, and the granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the country's National Front party. Jean-Marie Le Pen has repeatedly dismissed Nazi gas chambers as a “detail of history,” drawing fines from French courts.
Maréchal-Le Pen, a former member of the French Parliament, told The Washington Post last year that she “disagreed” with her grandfather's remarks about gas chambers, but said that “he was right about a lot of things” and described herself as “the political heir of Jean-Marie Le Pen.”
“The multicultural model defended by our elite is a model that doesn't work,” Maréchal-Le Pen told The Post's James McAuley. “This model is at the source of the development of terrorism and radical Islam.”
She described a feeling that French culture is being eroded by immigrants and said that “so many young people have the impression of paying a lot to welcome all of the miserable of the world, when they themselves are already struggling to find a job.”
In short, Maréchal-Le Pen's immigration rhetoric is similar to Trump's — but coarser. Trump at least claims to be a fan of legal immigration and has never explicitly denounced multiculturalism.
What's striking is that the same conference where Trump thought he would be viewed as too extreme just two years ago is prepared to welcome Maréchal-Le Pen on Thursday. The shift is another testament to Trump's alteration of the GOP.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted approvingly about CPAC, which he will address in a speech Friday.
Other conservatives are not as excited as the president, however. Republican strategist Tara Setmayer pointed to the inclusion of Maréchal-Le Pen and last year's invitation (later rescinded) to Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos as evidence that CPAC now gives “cover to alt-right ilk.”
Meanwhile, Glenn Beck objected to Maréchal-Le Pen because she is, in his view, a “national socialist.”
National Review senior editor Jonah Goldberg made both arguments — that Maréchal-Le Pen is an unsavory character and not a true conservative — during a lengthy back-and-forth on Twitter with CPAC organizer Matt Schlapp. Here's an excerpt:
Lest there be any doubt, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is not speaking. As Goldberg suggested, the conference agenda foreshadows little criticism of the president.