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By Day Three of the CPAC conference, I usually want to die, just because watching all the propaganda and self-aggrandizement is exhausting and also sort of weirdly soul-crushing. But this year there was a kind of anxiety that I’ve never felt, because the former guy or the 45th president of the United States was speaking.
We haven’t heard a lot from the former guy since Jan. 6. Some of that is because he was removed from social media for all the lying about the election and encouraging violence; some of it is because since Donald Trump is no longer president, he no longer matters. We don’t want to elevate Trump, but you ignore him at your own peril—after all Trump is the spiritual leader of the Republican Party, and if you don’t think so, take a look at the real breakout star of CPAC, the enormous gold statue that was made (in Mexico) in his likeness.
Officially the theme of this year’s CPAC is “America uncanceled.” Unofficially, “unreality” is the theme of this year’s confab, and this was on display in spades. Right before Trump went on, failed congressional candidate Angela Stanton-King defended her belief in QAnon, and Jim Jordan called Trump “the president.”
Trump’s first post-presidency speech started an hour and five minutes late, but I mean, it makes sense since Trump has been so busy playing golf and doing whatever he’s been doing which is nothing, except maybe thinking about how he’s going to stay out of jail?
He started the speech with a Trumpian flourish of “Do you miss me yet?” But it was clear that the slightly tempered enthusiasm from the crowd, who sounded sort of sleepy, was affecting Trump’s performance. And then there was the straw poll, which said that 32 percent of CPAC attendees who participated in the straw poll did not want him to run for president again.” This sounds like a low number, but for CPAC it’s actually surprisingly high. All of this static seemed like it got to Trump, who sounded exhausted, as he often does when reading the teleprompter. Teleprompter Trump is always very sleepy and slightly bored.
There were the clearly certainly ironic moments, like Trump declaring, “We’ve been winning.” You’ll remember that Trump is the guy who lost the presidency, the House, and the Senate. Trump announced that he’s not starting a new party, which I guess is a relief to some Republicans, but some of that relief was likely tempered by abject horror at the way Trump went after the Republicans who voted to impeach him.
Yes, the only time Trump seemed at all interested in the words he was saying was when he started calling out all the Republicans who voted against him. It was a kind of hit list, each Republican called out by name. He saved Liz Cheney for last: “Of course the warmonger, a person that loves seeing our troops fighting, Liz Cheney. How about that?” Trump ecstatically praised the Wyoming state GOP for censuring her. “Get rid of them all,” he said gleefully. And it’s easy to see how the spiteful president might spend the next two years chasing down all the members of the House and Senate who opposed him.
The other bits of the Speech were pure teleprompter Trump. Twelve minutes in, Trump lied about winning the election twice.
And then it was just a collection of Trump’s greatest hits, if you could call it that. Trump seemed exhausted and at some points just bored. After all he’s been saying the same exact things for the last four years—Mexicans are rapists, Democrats want to take away your guns. And then there were all the weird culture war things: trans people going into women’s sports, patriotic education, cancel culture, etc. But here’s the thing about Trump’s speeches: Trump really has only one speech, and it hits all the same notes. And he’s as bored by it as we are.
There were a few other new additions to the repertoire. The crowd booed the World Heath Organization, and started chanting, “We love you, we love you, we love you.” It was kind of pathetic. Trump then said he was the most loved president. I mean, he was actually the most hated president, but who cares?
The only really new thing Trump has been doing since the election is lying about it. At one point in the speech Trump screamed that “the election was rigged.” And then the crowd chanted, “You won, you won, you won.” That felt like the peak moment of unreality.
Throughout the entire weekend, speakers at CPAC have been complaining about the judges. Trump continued this by complaining about the Supreme Court, neglecting to mention that he has installed a third of the nine Supreme Court justices.
But in the end, there is never a new Trump. Trump is always Trump, and CPAC 2021 was no exception. It was the same old cranky reality television host who has only a passing acquaintance with both policy and reality. It was an hour and forty minutes of retread, the same boring crap he’s been shopping since he came down that bronze escalator in the summer of 2015. Mexico isn’t going to pay for the fucking wall, and honestly we’re in the middle of a pandemic—a wall with Mexico feels like getting a boob job when you’re bleeding to death from dengue fever. Forget the silicon. Just give me a transfusion.