The Conservative Political Action Conference, known in politics as CPAC, began Thursday in Dallas and ends Sunday. Former President Donald Trump will give the headlining speech Saturday night, and major Texas Republican figures such as Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton will speak at various points.
It makes sense for state officials to fraternize with their ideological brethren. But the event, particularly with Trump boasting the coveted slot, highlights some of the worst trends in conservative politics.
In some ways, the CPAC agenda reflects recent conservative victories. Several speakers will tout the Supreme Court victory overturning the Roe v. Wade decision. But many of the speakers and topics reflect an agenda that’s more consistent with Trump’s GOP, obsessed with election-fraud fantasies and featuring the party’s fringe, conspiratorial, drama-laden wing, such as Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene.
It also flirts with outright authoritarianism. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks Thursday. His nationalist fervor has attracted sympathetic conservatives here, to the point that CPAC even held an event in Hungary.
But Orban has embraced racial politics, decrying a “mixed-race world” in words that rang of antisemitic terms. It’s unclear what lessons some conservatives hope to draw from a small, homogeneous Eastern European country. To borrow a line from “Gladiator,” the 2000 film: “He enters Rome like a conquering hero, yet what has he conquered?” Heck if we know.
Other agenda items seem downright nutty, such as “You’re Next: The Rise of the Democratic Gulag” and “Socialists Cheat: Mandating Election Laws.” We’re for American pride and election integrity and we even understand the inclination to market concepts in a catchy, memorable way, but these highlight fringe ideas and players.
And of course, there’s plenty of bashing President Joe Biden — Paxton’s speech is titled “Joe Did This” — and ripping on Vice President Kamala Harris.
Where are all the common sense members of the Republican Party? Mysteriously missing from this list and a weekend visit to the great state of Texas.
Which brings us back to our own leaders. In addition to those mentioned, three local members of Congress — Rep. Michael Burgess of Pilot Point, Rep. Beth Van Duyne of Irving and Rep. Roger Williams of Austin. Neither they nor the statewide officials appearing are synonymous with the views or character traits of someone like Boebert or Greene. But they diminish themselves and the appeal of Texas conservatism by mixing it with conspiratorial nonsense.
And of course, there’s Trump. His obsession with false theories about the 2020 election disqualified him from serious consideration long ago. But the latest revelations of the congressional Jan. 6 committee indicate the extent to which, at minimum, he considered actions that could have amounted to an attempt to overthrow the legitimate processes of government.
He is no longer fit to be president. What’s more, the GOP does not need to embrace him: There are plenty of other sound, sane, viable Republicans who could run and represent the party well.
Abbott and Co. already have the votes of the grassroots Texas base. They don’t need to be at CPAC. They could skip it, make their reasoning known, and barely feel a bump in the polls.
But you’re known by the company you keep. Our GOP politicians continue to attend events where Trump is the headliner, drawn like moths to a flame of conspiratorial nonsense and child-like drama. It tarnishes their reputations, the Texas GOP — and frankly, the state.
It’s like watching a toxic relationship expire well past its prime: You want one person to walk away and say, enough is enough, I’m better than this. But they never do.
Texas is, in fact, better than what we’ll see at CPAC. It’s one thing to stick to your principles, but it’s another to remain in the clutches of a leader well past his prime and who’s overstayed his welcome.