Trump will seize control back at CPAC and Mitch McConnell must be terrified

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Hannah Selinger
·4 min read
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Donald Trump at CPAC 2020 (EPA-EFE)
Donald Trump at CPAC 2020 (EPA-EFE)

Former president Trump, it was revealed on Sunday, will be speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference later this week. CPAC is set to begin in Orlando, Florida on Thursday, February 25 and continue throughout the weekend. The public appearance will be the former president’s first since he exited office in a cloud of disgrace in mid-January. It will also be a signal to the Republican Party about his role in its future.

Mike Pence, for his part, has declined a CPAC invitation to speak, which speaks volumes. It is Trump — and not Pence — with which Republicanism seeks to align, irrespective of the insurrection, the debilitating failures of the presidency, and the fact that the loyally conservative vice-president was a victim of Trumpian lies. For those within the party who decried Trump’s behavior in the waning days of his presidency (and who simultaneously refused to act to prevent the former president from running again), the message from the top down is clear: You’re stuck with this now.

For some on the right, that connection suits just fine. On Sunday, a poll released by Suffolk University and USA Today revealed that 46 percent of Republicans would abandon their party in favor of a shiny new Trump Party, should the former president create one. This fracture presents a clear and present danger to establishment Republicans who had hoped to excise the former president from politics. What if Trump starts his own party, coercing 46 percent of Republicans to abandon ship? How will Republicans restore sanity? How will they retain power if there is a widespread migration? The truth is, they can’t. The opportunity to wrest power has come and gone.

Republicans wasted that opportunity this month, when they opted not to convict Trump during the impeachment trial. They had the chance to stop him in his tracks, but they chose, instead, to pursue a political gamble. That gamble, it seems, did not pay off. If the hope of conservative Senators was to vote not to convict on “Constitutional” grounds and then go gentle into that good night, Trump has promised that nothing about the future of the Republican Party will be gentle.

Watch: CPAC chairman on why they're giving Trump a platform

What will Trump’s appearance at CPAC look like, when he makes it this coming Sunday? This morning, Axios reported that he intends to announce he will be the de facto challenger to President Biden in 2024 (assuming the current president chooses to run again). Trump’s political action committee has $75 million in funds, as well as a massive database of voter contacts. Axios also cited former Trump senior adviser Jason Miller, who told the site that the “only chasm is between Beltway insiders and grassroots Republicans around the country.” Not only is Trump not going anywhere, but he’s also claiming to represent the party that struggles with his stranglehold. An insurrectionist wears the crown, and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that.

Seven Republican Senators, of course, did try to dethrone the former president, and some other members offered words — though not actions — that indicated their distaste for Trumpism. Mitch McConnell, ever the canny politician, voted not to convict but also made a compelling speech on the floor of the Senate, blaming Trump for the insurrection.

Does the Senator from Kentucky wish he had voted to convict now, a move that almost certainly would have brought establishment Republicans along with it? Does he regret not relegating the former president to the trash heap, now that, only weeks after his second impeachment, Trump will prominently represent the Republican Party at one of the most widely publicized conservative events in the country?

A divide in the GOP (as well as a massive identity crisis) is a foregone conclusion at this point. But it didn’t have to be this way. McConnell had the opportunity to banish the demon, as did the other Republican members of the Senate. Instead, they left the door wide open for the revitalization of Trumpism. The result, clear as day, is a brand of thought that is owned by Donald J. Trump, the twice-impeached former president of the United States. And Republicans have no one but themselves to blame for it. As nervous as everyday Americans might be to hear what Trump has to say at CPAC on Sunday, I can only imagine the state of the GOP members who failed to neuter him when they had the chance.

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