On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, Donald Trump ran and won the presidency, forever changing the Republican party.
The 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, is indicative of a trend in politics that began but wont end with Trump. During this year’s CPAC, conservative activists met from across the United States to congregate and attend conferences surrounding Republican issues.
The conference was attended by politicians such as Governor Ron DeSantis, Ted Cruz, and Kristi Noem. Trending topics of discussion such as mask wearing, cancel culture, and a re-election attempt from Trump were discussed. Raucous applause greeted speaker after speaker in the successful rally.
It also marks the first public appearance of Trump since leaving the White House, following his loss of the 2020 election. His return confirms one thing: the Republican party is still very much in the hands of Trump. Beginning his speech with, “Do you miss me yet?”, he was greeted by an ecstatic crowd chanting “USA, USA, USA!”.
From there, Trump continued on. His speech covered the primal “evil” of the Democrats, how he had rightfully won the election, and Republican unity. Interestingly enough though, a lot of his speech railed against Republicans, whom he viewed as too weak in their convictions. This strong divide between Trump supporters and old school Republicans could not be more evident than in this event.
This calls into question how the GOP would reunite. Trump supporters are fed up with moderate conservatives, “We’re so disgusted by Republicans that, honestly, if Trump’s not running, we don’t care who wins,” says Sany Dash, a worker at the convention. A large number of Trump supporters feel similarly, in a poll done by Suffolk University nearly half of Trump voters even said they would abandon the G.O.P. completely and join a Trump party if the former president decided to create one.
Despite this, there is still evidence that Trump may not be so popular. In his own straw poll conducted during the CPAC, only 55% of attendees said they’d vote for Trump in 2024. Concerns have been expressed even among his most devoted followers that Trump may be too controversial to win or that he might split the conservative vote.
One of the more attention grabbing aspects of the CPAC was the golden statue, created by Tommy Zegan, created in Trump’s image. And while it does come off a bit conceited to commission a golden statue in your likeness, it was one of the more popular attractions at the convention, drawing a number of people for photo opportunities.
Another point of controversy came from the shape of the stage used to host the convention. It strongly resembles the othala Rune, a viking symbol reappropriated by nazis. Though the convention organizers claim it was an accident, others suspect them of dogwhisting to nazi members in their audience. There is precedence for his campaign doing this already — back in November Trump’s campaign posted ads to Facebook that made use of a red inverted triangle, another nazi symbol.
Whether or not Trump runs for re-election, the lasting impact of his campaign will remain. One idea presented in the CPAC is that Trump may appoint a successor, which at this point seems incredibly likely. A successor would allow a new person to advocate for Trump’s policies and appeal to his voter base without being burdened by his controversial past. As a speaker in the CPAC, Ted Cruz said “Donald J. Trump ain’t goin’ anywhere.” I find this more true than ever. Trump may be gone, but Trumpism promises to stick around for a long time.