Leading GOP figures and upstart candidates who gathered in Dallas at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference in early August painted a dark and ominous picture of what the United States would be like under their control. The conference participants, the base of the GOP, cheered authoritarianism, normalized political violence, attacked LGBT+ rights, echoed domestic terrorists, and advanced 2020 election conspiracy theories. From the opening event with Texas Governor Abbott to the closing rant from former President Donald Trump, speakers also openly embraced white nationalist conspiracy theories and delivered non-stop attacks on immigrants.
The opening keynote speaker, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whose recent speech on “race-mixing” was described by a now-former aide as “a pure Nazi speech,” set the tone for the event. Obrán’s flagrantly christian nationalist, aggressively anti-LGBTQ speech directly called for unity with the American right. He argued that the combination of the upcoming elections in the U.S. and Hungary are about “defending western civilization.” And on immigration, he championed a “zero-migration” policy and claimed that he “built the wall.” He also said, “we were the first ones in Europe to say no to illegal migration and stopped the invasion,” echoing the white nationalist conspiracy that migration constitutes an “invasion.” Such rhetoric also has increasingly been adopted by Republicans’ campaigns, including several GOP Texas officeholders, like Governor Greg Abbott. Orbán delivered his remarks almost three years to the day after a gunman killed 23 people in El Paso, inspired by similar ‘invasion’ conspiracies. No surprise, Orbán received a standing ovation from CPAC attendees.
As political columnist Max Boot aptly described CPAC in his Washington Post column:
“All you need to know about the state of the Republican Party today is what happened at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas on Thursday. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been destroying his country’s democracy, received a standing ovation less than two weeks after he gave a speech in Romania in which he endorsed the white supremacist “replacement theory” and denounced a ‘mixed-race world’…”
“… the most apt phrase for this American authoritarianism is the New Fascism, and it is fast becoming the dominant trend on the right. If the GOP gains power in Washington, all of America will be in danger of being Orbanized.”
Undaunted by the “race-mixing” Nazi speech, a number of “stars” of the Republican Party took the stage after Orbán, happy to share in adulation from the same crowd. Lowlights included Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who proudly declared herself a christian nationalist on stage. And Donald Trump, who said “we must stop the invasion at our southern border,” followed by a full 21 seconds of applause, again moving the boundary of what is expectable inside the party. Other speakers like Rep. Mayra Flores (TX-34), Cassy Garcia, (TX-28), and Yesli Vega (VA-07) have been held up by the GOP as the prime examples of their diversifying party. But they shared that same stage without hesitation or hint of criticism of their parties embrace of “New Fascism.”
The participation of Flores in a panel alongside white nationalist cheerleaders at CPAC exemplifies the stakes in which party controls Congress after November. Flores, who won an extremely low-turnout special election in June, is in a critical battleground race. Rather than stay home and focus on issues of real concern to her district, Flores chose to raise her national profile instead. Flores has some explaining to do to her constituents for being part of a panel with two of the most vocal promoters for the white nationalist conspiracy that migration constitutes an “invasion” – Arizona’s GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and former Trump official Tom Homan.
Before the panel even began, Homan, the former ICE Director, interrupted the moderator to brag that he was Flores’ “very first endorsement.” Homan was “the intellectual ‘father’ of the idea to separate migrant families as a deterrent,” according to a new deep dive in The Atlantic about the Trump administration’s policy of systematically separating thousands of children from their parents, arguably the worst of many human rights offenses committed by the Trump administration. Homan also used the panel to plug the legal arm of a Southern Poverty Law Center designated hate group he now works for. The first statement from Lake on the panel was her declaration that refugees and asylum seekers safety are tantamount to an “invasion.” Lake made clear she wasn’t just speaking hyperbolically but citing Article 1 Section 10 of the Constitution, claiming it provides the justification to declare war on the families seeking asylum at the border.
Flores fit right in. She attacked as “the enemies within” members of her own community and district who work with the refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants at the border. That’s right – the faith leaders, local charities, and service providers who devote their energies and time to welcoming the stranger and supporting vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers are to Mayra Flores, “the enemies within.”
But despite the cheers from the far-right crowd in Dallas, it is vital to remember nativism is falling flat outside the Republican base. New Gallup polling reaffirms that Republicans are out of touch: 70 percent of Americans think immigration is a “good thing” for the country. The negative attitudes towards immigration are driven overwhelmingly by Republicans, who are evenly split on the sentiment. Immigration is also losing its salience outside the Republicans’ base. Another Gallup poll found that immigration ranked sixth in a question asked about the “most important problem facing this country today” A ranking that is almost entirely driven by Republican voters. Meanwhile, a new Monmouth poll found that immigration has decreased by nine points from 2018 in a question that asks what voters think is “most important” for their vote.
The polling – and the ugly nativism on display at CPAC Texas – offer reminders that the leading anti-immigrant voices and candidates of the Republican Party are advancing an ugly vision for the country that is popular with the existing base of the hardline, MAGA conservatives, but dangerous, unpopular and against the wishes of the rest of America.