As I watched Trump bask in the warm ovations, I wondered: Did any among the CPAC dignitaries, who tend to be strict constitutional constructionists, have the temerity to approach him and say, “Mr. President, I think it was terrible that you spent weeks trashing state officials of your own party and attacking our judicial system because they refused to participate in your power grab.” Anyone?
Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, reportedly declined a CPAC invitation, but Trump didn’t seem to miss him. Not once in his rambling monologue did Trump mention Pence, in stark contrast to Jan. 6, when Trump told thousands of his supporters, “Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us. And if he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country, because you’re sworn to uphold our Constitution.” Did anyone at CPAC take Trump aside and say, “Mr. President, I just want you to know that how you’ve treated Mike Pence, who was building the conservative movement back when you were building your personal brand, is unforgivable.” Anyone?
On Sunday, Trump ran through his greatest hits, and I agreed with his list. Great pre-pandemic economy? Check. Stronger borders? Check. Energy independence? Check. A vaccine delivered in record time? Check. When Trump delivered his proposals for election reform, I nodded along with each item, from returning to one national election day with limited absentee voting to stronger voter-ID requirements. Perhaps, as Trump was exiting the venue, someone at CPAC might have suggested one other reform: “Don’t pressure state election officials to somehow find the exact number of votes you need to win.” Anyone?
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell wasn’t welcome at CPAC, but why not? After excoriating Trump in his post-impeachment trial remarks, McConnell later said that if Trump is again the nominee of the party he will “absolutely” support him. Not, “No way in hell.” Not even, “Trump was great, but he lost me forever when he refused to admit he lost, spent weeks riling up his base with ridiculous claims of a stolen election, and engaged in reprehensible rhetoric to ignite a riot at the Capitol, costing innocent lives.” Just, “Absolutely.”
“This election was rigged,” the man who lost bellowed. “You won! You won!” the CPAC throng chanted in reply. Everyone was having fun, and no one dared spoil a good time. But you just know that this year’s CPAC was like a drunken party that everyone will regret when they sober up. Few things will be more embarrassing than images of the wild ovations on Sunday for the man who told an angry crowd just before the lethal Capitol invasion, “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”
There was some evidence of cooler heads emerging even at CPAC. Trump won a presidential straw poll, but with just 55 percent. That’s not an unbeatable number this early in a presidential cycle, and Trump surely knows that. In second place — and first place in a poll that didn’t include Trump — was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, followed by South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem. A DeSantis-Noem ticket — my preference would be Noem-DeSantis — is a natural fit for Trumpism without Trump once the Republican Party recovers from its hangover.
I’ll continue to praise Trump for what I loved about him, and the Senate was smart not to take away the right of Americans to vote for him, which would have made him a martyr to some. But I’ll never stop urging his supporters to forsake him, as he forsook his post-election duties to them and all Americans.
After reading something I wrote, an exasperated Trump supporter sent a note asking, “Is it possible you could stop reminding me of when and why you stopped supporting President Trump?”
No, it’s not. Such an omission is tantamount to pretending it’s not important — and pretending it’s not important surrenders our dignity as Americans to the cult of Trump.
No newspaper columnist or commentator on any medium should ever discuss Trump without a reminder that he attempted to override an election and contributed to a deadly incursion at the Capitol during a constitutionally mandated affirmation of democracy. Just wondering, did anyone at CPAC mention it to him? Anyone?