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Across the Atlantic the theme from Jaws is playing. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, he’s back at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
The Hyatt Regency lobby in Orlando, Florida, boasts a gold statue of Donald Trump to greet delegates ahead of his keynote speech on Sunday – an address which will doubtless be made up of the standard dyspeptic world salad.
For fun, although perhaps that’s not quite the right word, try replaying some of it when it appears on YouTube and writing down what he says. Then read it back. This man is to oratory what drunken takeaway is to fine dining.
If you work at it you’ll probably get the gist; not that there’ll be much point. It will be the usual depressing mix of braggadocio, insult, low-rent fiction and grievance, with an emphasis on the latter. If you’ve heard it once you’ll have heard it before.
Policy? Who cares about policy. The party this cult votes for, the Republican Party, was first described as “the party of ideas” by a Democrat and it used to delight in the description.
But it has been a long time since that compliment was really deserved – if it ever was.
As a keen follower of the US political scene, I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out in right wing safe spaces. I’ve watched Fox News, read the stuff put up on townhall.com, listened to conservative commentators on YouTube. I know that looks like masochism but it’s research, honest.
Over the years what I’ve been treated to is a lot of bluster, a dash of faux victimhood and, when all else fails, a massive chunk of “own the libs” fist-waving. This was evident long before Trump, the embodiment of the Republican id, began his inexorable rise.
When the Democrats were in power there’d usually be some whinging about the US budget deficit – despite the fact that Democratic presidents have done a far better job of keeping it in check than have Republicans – and some Reaganite small-government spiel.
But that’s about it. Genuine ideas? Hard to find. But now? Now they’re all but extinct.
The delegates’ hero, the star of the show, won’t even offer so much as an under-cooked selection from that limited menu. His programme for a second term appeared to amount to making the US a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Trump Organisation, ensuring new judges were dug up from the darkest thicket in the conservative jungle, and not denouncing whatever whacky conspiracy theory was doing the rounds.
A reheated dose of that will be lapped up by the CPAC throngs. But they’ll lap up anything that comes out of Trump’s mouth. They’d even raise the roof if he said he was coming round to the idea of socialism but would do it better than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Joe Biden.
Poor Mitt Romney. He once had them eating out of his hand. Yes, yes, I know he was the only Republican senator to vote to convict the former president at his first impeachment trial, but consider what he really is, even today: a genuine, bona fide hard right-winger. A man who once said this: “There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 per cent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.... My job is not to worry about those people.”
Romney has won more of the event’s presidential “straw polls” than anyone else. Yet he couldn’t even get an invite. Even if one of the organisers had accidentally sprinkled some of their kids’ weed on their ham and eggs and mistakenly asked him down he likely wouldn’t have been able to attend without security in case a member of the audience decided to see just how far the US legal system will allow an angry white guy to go.
Matt Schlapp, chair of CPAC, said he would be worried if Romney showed up at what CNN’s Anderson Cooper described as “Woodstock for insurrectionists”. Schlapp said ahead of the event that he “would actually be afraid for [Romney’s] physical safety, people are so mad at him.”
Political parties usually engage in a period of reflection after an election defeat, a debate about what went wrong and a discussion about the necessary steps to create a winning coalition next time out.
To be fair, they aren’t always terribly edifying. In Britain defeated parties have tended to opt for a chunk of crazy before waking up to the fact that it’s a good idea to listen to what the electorate is telling you rather than what you want to hear.
The problem in America is that, led by Trump, conservatives aren’t capable of recognising that they were beaten. If they don’t genuinely believe they’re listening to the man who was really elected president they’ll pretend that’s the case. Some of the cynics may have even convinced themselves. There’ll be no shortage of doublethink on display.
CPAC has never been particularly pleasant to watch but it’s turned into little more than into an enormous ass-kissing exercise, capped by the belch from an enormous ass at the end of the event. SAD.