Analysis & Comment

Opinion | The Happy Warriors of CPAC Seemed Less Than Happy This Year

The Conservative Political Action Conference is a festival disguised as a political meeting, a sales convention doubling as a revival, an annual celebration of a particular kind of conservatism and its red hat-wearing, pin-collecting enthusiasts. It’s like the parking lot outside a concert — everyone’s got something to sell, or something to say.

But this year, the enthusiasts didn’t seem as enthusiastic as usual.

Maybe it was the lackluster 2022 midterm results for Republicans. Maybe it was the reduced number of vendors at the four-day event, held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland just outside Washington. Maybe it was the gray weather.

Or maybe it was the fact that there are only so many times you can threaten the return of “Ba’al and Moloch” if Democrats win elections before people stop listening.

This year’s just-concluded edition didn’t feature all the usual big names in Republican politics. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida decided against attending, as did former Vice President Mike Pence and the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell. (McConnell, it should be noted, is extremely unpopular at CPAC.)

But the biggest name in Republican politics remains Donald Trump, who spoke on Saturday night and provided perhaps the only real jolt of excitement of the weekend.

At CPAC, everything is possible and everyone is a “happy warrior.” The future is simultaneously terrifying and bright, with enemies who are both evil and stupid, innumerable and outnumbered by “normal” Americans (all of whom happen to be at CPAC, of course).

But in 2023, with empty tables and wide expanses of the convention center left unoccupied, you couldn’t help but feel that the magic of CPAC was running out. And only the restoration of Mr. Trump to the White House could Make CPAC Great Again.

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