Over the weekend, Republican thinkers, activists, and elected officials gathered in Orlando, Florida for the Conservative Political Action Conference’s (CPAC) annual convening. From start to finish, the conference displayed the GOP’s disturbing trajectory, revealing that one of the two major political parties is organizing itself around politics of white grievance and ultra-nationalism while cozying up to the idea of political violence. The leading voices in the Republican party fervently beat the culture war drums with commitments to the Big Lie, racist conspiracy theories, xenophobic misinformation, COVID denialism, downplaying January 6, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, and much more. Meanwhile, just down the street at a second conference, open white nationalists shared the stage with elected Republicans.
In a long-developing trend, last weekend was a reminder of where the leading voices are taking the Republican Party – down the dangerous path of white nationalism.
With the world’s attention focused on Ukraine and the struggle between fascist authoritarianism and inclusive democracy, the Republican Party on display in Orlando offered a disturbing reminder of which side of that line they are embracing.
“I believe America deserves a president who will stop the invasion of our country,” Donald Trump said to a standing ovation in his keynote speech at CPAC on Saturday night. The former president was amplifying the same false racist conspiracy theory that inspired several horrific acts of domestic terrorism during his administration. This dangerous idea asserts there is a coordinated effort of non-white migrants currently invading the southern border that will replace white America. Popularized by white nationalists, this racist conspiracy theory is the “most important driver of the insurrectionist movement” according to research from the University of Chicago. Tragically, from Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2018, to El Paso, Texas in 2019, to the United States Capital in 2021, we have seen the deadly results when some individuals decide to act on these racist ideas.
In his speech, Trump claimed:
[Democrats] are destroying our own borders and surrendering our own sovereignty… under Joe Biden, we are losing our country, no different than if we lost it in a war, no different, no different. Millions of people are pouring in, descending into our communities, camping in our towns, depleting our resources, floating our laws, and are bringing crime, drugs, and death to the streets of our communities.
This dangerous notion of an “invasion” wove its way throughout CPAC and was even organized into the conference itself. Mercedes Schlapp, former White House Director of Strategic Communications, moderated a panel discussion titled “The Invasion” that included Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Former Director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Thomas Homan. Sen. Rick Scott, who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and designs on leadership used his speech to push the lie, warning of a “dangerous invasion at the border, drugs, and criminals marching in every day.” A leading activist in the party, Charlie Kirk, of Turning Points USA, took the main stage on Thursday proclaiming, “I want every Republican leader who comes up on this stage to call what is happening on the southern border an invasion.” Rep. Andy Biggs (AZ-05) used his speech to claim “the border is in disarray, we are being invaded.”
To get a closer look at where this path leads we just have to turn to the competing conference in Florida this weekend, AFPAC III. Organized by leading white nationalist Nick Fuentes, the conference saw a defense of Hitler, applause at being labeled a racist, and calls for the “gallows.” Expectedly, the program was filled with the nation’s most vile bigots, racists, and xenophobes, and several elected Republicans took the stage alongside them. The night before taking the stage at CPAC, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA-14) spoke at this white nationalist conference. Lt. Gov of Idaho Janice McGeachin, Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ-04), and Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers all appeared at the conference via video. Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio also took the stage at the white nationalist conference and was applauded when he said he was “the biggest racist in the country.” Finally, State Senator Rogers advocated for violence by calling for the “gallows.“
Will we see action from Republican leadership to exorcize this white nationalism from the party or, at least the very least, strong condemnation? Highly unlikely.
Tacit or explicit approval appears to be the modus operandi. For example, Donald Trump has already endorsed Janice McGeachin in her primary bid to unseat Idaho’s current Republican Governor. Last week, when Republican Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was confronted by Brahm Resnik of 12 News/KPNX TV News about helping to spend $500,000 to elect Wendy Rogers in 2020 despite her white nationalist ties, Ducey responded that she was better than having a Democrat in the seat. And during his keynote to CPAC on Saturday, Donald Trump made sure to give Rep. Taylor Greene a shoutout after she was confronted by reporters earlier in the day for participating in the white nationalist conference.
We would be remiss if we didn’t also mention that many of the bigots and white nationalists speaking at AFPAC III are only one or two degrees removed from CPAC and Trump administration. For example, former President Trump’s top economic adviser and top bill speaker at CPAC, Larry Kudlow is associated with white nationalist Peter Brimelow. Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes also spoke at AFPAC III and we all should remember former President Trump’s infamous “stand by” comment to the white nationalist gang at the 2020 presidential debate. Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL-01), who also spoke at CPAC and gave a shoutout in Trump’s speech, has a troubling history with the Proud Boys.
This is the Republican Party: immersed in racist conspiracy theories, egging on and excusing murderous political violence, and explicit white nationalism creeping further towards the center of their platform. While there may still be some voices offering a muted alternative, we must recognize that at best, the few parts of leadership who are not actively engaged in driving the Republican Party down this path have resigned themselves to a silent acquiescence to this new reality. As difficult as this reality may be to confront, choosing to look away from this problem will only make it worse. The Republican Party will not self-correct on its own. For the sake of their readers, reporters must continue to press leading Republicans to be on the record about the turn of their party towards white nationalism. For the sake of the country, Democrats must confidently confront this problem and present a convincing alternative vision of our future.