Star Wars characters promoting a book about taxes at CPAC, naturally
Another Conservative Political Action Conference has come again, leaving us another straw-poll win for Rand Paul and a fresh set of scenarios for the end of America. The three-day conservative confab, which took place in National Harbor, Maryland, last week, is sort of like taking a trip into the dark id of the Republican Party, offering a glimpse of America through the eyes of the Tea Party. It’s a world where Steve Stockman dares college kids to jump into hotel-room hot tubs, where Rick Santorum is relevant, and where the final crash is always just around the corner.
In that sense, CPAC is the closest I’ve come to attending a party before the apocalypse, except that no one is quite sure when the end is going to come. Behind all of the Tea Party pageantry and College Republican cockteasing lurks a vague, but palpable, dread—the sense that America as red-state Americans know it is on the brink of a disastrous collapse that will leave us with only the guns in our basements and the gold buried in our backyards. It doesn’t help that this year’s CPAC took place at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, a bizarre and palatial complex in National Harbor. Located across the Potomac from Washington, National Harbor is sort of like Downtown Disney, except there are no people and no one is quite sure why it exists. You can see the Washington Monument from the windows of the Gaylord, but just barely.
The sense of fear was everywhere, however: in the main speeches, in T-shirt slogans, and in panel discussions like "When the Fed Stops Building and the Mint Stops Printing” and "The Hopelessness of EVER Curtailing Government Spending.” Guys dressed like Storm Troopers and Darth Vader wandered the halls, hawking grim but vague anti-tax bumper stickers. On Friday, social conservatives screened the movie Persecuted, a DIY Evangelical film about the government trampling religious freedoms. Another film, about the sinister machinations of the IRS, played Saturday morning.
While there didn’t seem to be much consensus among CPAC attendees about how exactly America as we know it will end, there was some agreement that it will have to do with ObamaCare. On Thursday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas kicked off the conference with an “Off with ObamaCare’s head!” battle cry, and the bashing of the president’s signature health-care law continued in the same vein until Sarah Palin closed the conference with a butchered ObamaCare-themed rendition of Green Eggs and Ham. In a discussion titled "A Practical Guide to Living When No One Has Insurance and America Runs Out of Doctors,” conservatives offered ideas for how to effectively live off the government’s health-care grid once Democrats finally succeed in establishing a socialist state. “There aren’t enough doctors to take care of patients, and this is just making things worse,” whined Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.
Just down the road from the Gaylord, fringe conservatives mapped out a more frightening doomsday scenario on Thursday at Breitbart’s Uninvited conference, a parallel CPAC for all of the Sharia alarmists, White nationalists, and others considered too extreme for the main event. This year’s event was co-hosted by EMPAct, which claims to be the country’s largest bipartisan organization devoted to protecting Americans from an electromagnetic pulse catastrophe. If you aren’t familiar, EMPs are outbursts of atmospheric electricity producing intense magnetic fields that can disable the power lines and electrical grids essential to modern life. The phenomenon can occur naturally, through a geomagnetic storm. But the nightmare scenario—and one that Newt Gingrich and some other conservatives are obsessed with—is an EMP triggered by a terrorist nuclear attack. The Muslim Brotherhood and Benghazi were also covered at Uninvited, as was immigration, in a panel titled “Amnesty and Open Borders: The End of America—and the GOP.”
Nathan Learner, left, and Jeremy Edlind, take a break from their War on Youth campaign.
Of course, fears about America’s social and financial deterioration have been a hallmark of conservatism for years, and the paranoia has only worsened since the advent of the Tea Party. But what makes this year’s dour vigilance curious is that Republicans should see a light at the end of the tunnel. Republicans have a strong chance of winning majorities in both the House and the Senate this year, which would effectively make Barack Obama a lame duck for his final two years in office. After that, the GOP will be free to remake the country in its image, provided they run someone even marginally palatable in 2016.
But conservatives, even the young ones who dominate CPAC, seem to see America’s collapse as a fait accompli. As I was leaving the Gaylord, I ran into Nathan Learner, a 20-something Republican operative dressed in costume battle fatigues to promote CPAC’s “War on Youth” booth. As he purchased Halls and Powerade at the hotel gift shop, I asked Learner if he thinks that there is any hope for the country’s future. He paused. “I think there is,” he said slowly. But perhaps not much. “Our generation is under attack, from big-government cronyism, the ObamaCare law, entitlement spending, the national debt,” he said. “Basically the political status quo has stacked the deck against our generation.”