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Opinion CPAC’s speakers exult in conservative victimhood

People take a picture with a statue of former president Donald Trump on display at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando on Saturday. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Who would have guessed that you would find so many snowflakes in Orlando at this time of year?

The theme of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference taking place there this weekend — “America Uncanceled” — is a nod to the sense of grievance that has suffused the gathering so far, and that no doubt will reach a crescendo when former president Donald Trump gives the closing address Sunday, his first big appearance since leaving office.

A golden statue of Trump — something that in biblical times might have been referred to as a graven image — was wheeled into CPAC’s exhibit hall for attendees to worship. "TPAC — that’s what it feels like, guys!” the ex-president’s son Don Jr. declared.

Whatever it is, CPAC has fallen a long way from the days when actual policy ideas were discussed there. But it remains a reasonable barometer of the state of the GOP id.

Among the most frequently cited villains this year have been Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who was the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee, and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the daughter of a former vice president and the third-ranking leader of the GOP’s caucus in the House.

The U.S. Conservative Political Action Conference, which begins Feb. 25, will host former president Donald Trump's first public appearance since leaving office. (Video: Reuters)

As CPAC awaits the elder Trump’s appearance, speaker after speaker has exulted in victimhood, which seems to have become the highest badge of honor for anyone on the right to claim. One of the panels on Friday was titled “How Government, Big Tech and Media Are Colluding to Deprive Us of Our Humanity.”

Though loudmouth congressman Matt Gaetz is ubiquitous across the media these days, the Florida Republican began his presentation by declaring: “I’m a canceled man in some corners of the Internet. I’m a banned man in the state of New Jersey.”

He was referring, apparently, to a comment that the state’s governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, made in December after Gaetz appeared in Jersey City maskless at a crowded indoor GOP gathering that violated the state’s coronavirus guidelines. Murphy said it was “beyond the pale that anyone would willingly endanger people in another state, never mind their own.”

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Murphy also called Gaetz “a knucklehead” and said: “What a fool. He and they should be ashamed of themselves. … You are not welcome in New Jersey, and frankly, I don’t ever want you back in this state.” An understandable expression of frustration on the governor’s part, but one that does exactly not have the force of law.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) indignantly brought up another sore point, which was the media’s refusal to simply repeat the falsehoods of Trump: “First they decided they were going to fact-check him — the leader of the free world!”

Even the temporary fencing that has been constructed around the U.S. Capitol has become a source of hurt feelings. It was cited frequently, including by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who said: "This is not about security at this point. This is about political theater.”

What wasn’t brought up, at least not directly, was the reason that fence went up, which was the deadly riot that occurred there on Jan. 6.

But Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) got the longest standing ovation of the day, when he reminded the audience of his role in fomenting the lie that brought the deadly mob of Trump supporters to the Hill. After Hawley noted that he had challenged the electoral college tally that Congress was there to certify that day ("maybe you heard about it”), he said: “I’m here today, I’m not going anywhere and I’m not backing down, not a chance!”

On day one of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, the audience heckled directors who asked them to wear masks in line with hotel rules. (Video: Reuters)

But it was also notable that at least one conservative media outlet, Right Side Broadcasting, cut away from its live feed of CPAC during a panel discussion in which participants were promoting the baseless conspiracy theory that the presidential election was stolen — lies that have brought a spate of multibillion-dollar lawsuits by voting-machine companies that have been falsely accused of rigging the results.

One Right Side host told viewers: “There’s a lot of sensitive topics being talked about right now. We want everyone to do their own research in regards to what they’re talking about in this discussion right now — anything with the election, anything like that. It’s important to do your own research.”

Does that mean reality might be breaking through at CPAC? Not a chance. Not while the faithful are having so much fun exulting in their suffering.

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Read more:

Michael Gerson: There’s nothing conservative about CPAC

Henry Olsen: Reagan would tell today’s CPAC to build a GOP coalition, not a church

Greg Sargent: A former CPAC organizer’s broadside shows conservatism’s ongoing descent

Paul Waldman: This yearly conservative confab shows the peril of Trumpism

Greg Sargent: Trump’s grip on the GOP just tightened. Here’s what that means for Democrats.