President Trump looks to the cheering audience as he arrives to speak at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., on Saturday. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Opinion writer

President Trump’s horrifying, two-hour rant at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday — of a piece with unhinged dictators spewing venom and lies to a crowd no longer moored to reality — reminds us that to be a card-carrying member of the Trumpized Republican Party, you have to accept and repeat his lies without embarrassment.

You have to accept that it was Democrats who colluded with Russians; the Trump tax cut was the biggest in history; climate change doesn’t contribute to extreme weather or rising oceans; Russian President Vladimir Putin can be believed on interference with our presidential election, but U.S. intelligence agencies cannot; we owe someone a check when we have a trade deficit; the North American Free Trade Agreement cost us millions of jobs; millions of people voted illegally in 2016; a deep-state conspiracy including Trump’s own appointees is out to get him; an investigation with “199 criminal charges, 37 indictments or guilty pleas, and 4 prison sentences” is a witch hunt; and Trump hires only the “best people,” yet Michael Cohen is a liar, and a slew of Cabinet secretaries and senior staffers deserved to be fired. If Trump lies, then you have to lie, too. And boy, does Trump lie.

The CPAC speech was a fact checker’s paradise — misrepresenting the percentage of migrants who return for court proceedings (72 percent, not 3 percent as Trump claimed), taking credit for an Obama-era policy change allowing veterans to choose private providers, the reason for James B. Comey’s firing as FBI director, the size of Trump’s electoral victory and more. The crowd soaks up his vulgarity and vitriol, and still accepts the notion that we are a pen stroke away from losing hamburgers, cars and cows.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the CPAC crowd that applauds his lies. Members of Congress will insist that Trump never lied about Russia (Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio) and that the investigation into Carter Page was inspired by crooked FBI agents relying on the dossier (Jordan still repeats this). Republicans in both houses routinely insist that there is no evidence of any cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russians. They insist that there is a border emergency and that Democrats want open borders (both are false). You cannot believe climate change science, but you must believe anything and everything Trump says, even when Trump contradicts himself.

National security adviser John Bolton makes himself look positively foolish trying to conceal Trump’s jaw-dropping endorsement of Kim Jong Un’s lie about ignorance of the torturing of Otto Warmbier:

JAKE TAPPER: He’s going to take Kim Jong Un at his word that he didn’t know about it.

The Warmbier family put out a statement. They disagree. They say Kim Jong Un is responsible. Are they wrong?

BOLTON: Look, the president made it very clear he considers what happened to Otto Warmbier an act of brutality that's completely unacceptable to the American side.

I have heard him before the summit itself, before the press conference, talk about how deeply he cared about Otto Warmbier and his family.

The fact is, the best thing North Korea could do right now would be to give us a full accounting of what happened and who was responsible for it.

TAPPER: Do you take Kim Jong Un at his word?

BOLTON: The president takes him at his word.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: No, I know he does, but what about you?

BOLTON: My opinion doesn't matter. My opinion is that...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You're the national security adviser to the president.

BOLTON: Right. I’m not ...

TAPPER: Your opinion matters quite a bit.

BOLTON: I am not the national security decision-maker. That's his view.

TAPPER: Well, we saw Otto Warmbier in North Korean custody after his arrest at a press conference, February 29, 2016. There he is. He was alert. He was talking. He was physically OK.

So whatever happened to Otto Warmbier clearly happened after he entered North Korean custody, after Kim Jong Un knew that he was in North Korean custody.

Do you believe that somebody in the prison system in North Korea just went rogue and did something to Otto Warmbier, or do your years of knowing North Korea, and knowing the politics there, tell you that, whatever happened to Otto Warmbier, Kim Jong Un had to have known about it, because that’s how that country is run?

BOLTON: Listen, nothing that happens in North Korea surprises me.

But I do think what North Korea would benefit from most is a full description of what happened, a full accounting.

TAPPER: I don’t know one expert on North Korea who thinks that anything could have happened to Otto Warmbier without Kim Jong Un knowing about it ahead of time.

Do you disagree?

BOLTON: Good for them.

TAPPER: But what about you? You’re a North Korea ...

BOLTON: I — look, you know, people in the media seem to have the impression that administration officials kind of comment from the distance, as if I were a Fox News contributor, as I used to be.

TAPPER: Used to be.

BOLTON: I don't do that anymore. I give my advice to the president. I give my opinions to the president. He makes up his own mind. That's why he's president.

TAPPER: So there is this context of President Trump taking the word of Kim Jong Un.

In the past, in Helsinki, he said he believed Vladimir Putin’s denials of election interference over that of U.S. intelligence agencies. He has cited [Saudi] Crown Prince [Mohammed bin Salman’s] denials of his involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who lived in the United States.

Why does the president say publicly that he's willing to side with dictators over Americans?

BOLTON: He's not saying he's siding with dictators over Americans.

TAPPER: He believes them.

BOLTON: He has — he has expressed his opinion about what they have said on these various points.

The John Bolton of old would have eviscerated any administration official who spouted such tripe.

It’s one thing for an ordinary person who has marinated in Fox News and Rush Limbaugh propaganda for decades to believe just about anything Trump says, but what’s the excuse of elected officials and those appointed to high offices? What’s the excuse of the supposedly informed conservative pundits?

Let’s not overthink this. Republicans repeat and endorse Trump’s lies because they are afraid to incur the wrath of Trump, his state TV (Fox News) and the mob (the GOP base and its echo chamber in right-wing media).

Don’t take my word for it. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) tweeted last week that Congress is there to check the president, and it’s not members’ job to defend Trump 100 percent of the time. Heretic! Such thoughts put Amash outside the bounds of acceptable Republican dogma these days.

The party is all about — and only about — agreeing with Trump. And you better agree or pretend that you agree (since you apparently think voters are rubes who cannot understand the truth) lest you be cast out of the party and maybe have to go find work elsewhere.

Read more:

Kathleen Parker: Trump’s nonsense on Otto Warmbier is mind-numbing and outrageous

Dana Milbank: On the critically endangered list: The Principled Republican

Ann Telnaes cartoon: Trump’s appearance at CPAC

Alexandra Petri: CPAC sets the agenda with dudgeon and dragons