ORLANDO, Fla. – A month after Donald J. Trump stepped down, thousands of his Conservative allies and other far-right leaders tried Friday to target the Republican Party on the grievances of his presidency and pushed for false claims about the American electoral system to be denounced what they termed liberal demolition culture and ridicule the wearing of masks.
The politicians and activists gathered at the first major conference of pro-Trump Conservatives since his defeat, trying to reaffirm their adherence to a conservatism defined by Mr. Trump and the need to break with many of the policies and ideas that the administration is running had suggested American law for decades.
Some speakers at the event, the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference, declared the traditional Republican Party as good as dead. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, considered a possible presidential candidate in 2024, vowed that Conservatives would never be the “failed republican establishment of yesterday” would return. Others strongly reiterated Trump’s standing as the party leader and waved some Republicans off to deviate from the former president.
“Now let me tell you,” said Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, “Donald J. Trump is not going anywhere.”
The management received the loudest applause of the conference events on Friday morning, the start of a three-day affair that will culminate with a speech by Mr Trump on Sunday afternoon.
To the extent that the speakers got involved in politics at all, it was a matter of defining tough positions on China, immigration and, to some extent, the laissez-faire economic policies that technology giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google had made possible. so much power to amass.
The conference agenda, however, was largely anchored in grave warnings of the impending collapse of American society by “woke mobs” and “Marxist leftists”. Complaints about conservative censorship; a false insistence that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged”; and a suspicion of someone who didn’t share his determination to fight back and stand with Mr. Trump.
As the conference began, Washington Democrats were nearing a House vote on a nearly $ 2 trillion coronavirus aid package that is masking the Republican opposition. Yet even as House minority leader Kevin McCarthy railed and railed against the measure in the Capitol on Friday, she was barely mentioned or anything else related to President Biden’s agenda.
The Republican speakers instead received applause by focusing on the issues that animated the party during Mr Trump’s presidency – the politics between us and them, the preoccupation with personality over politics – and barely the name of Mr Biden mentioned.
It wasn’t until Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle took the stage towards the end of Friday sessions that someone commented on Mr. Biden’s first month in office. Yet the former president’s eldest son spent almost as much time mocking Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, the House’s third-tier Republican and Trump critic, as he did when confronting the current president.
“Liz Cheney and her policies are only a little less popular with quail hunting than her father,” said the younger Mr. Trump, a nearly 15-year-old clue about a hunting accident that didn’t quite land on college students’ viewers.
Other speakers used their time to belittle Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who voted twice to indict Mr Trump, which sparked laughter and applause.
After days when Republicans announced there would be no civil war In the party, the attacks were a clear reminder that Mr Trump and his closest associates are determined to clean up their critics.
If this isn’t made clear enough from the rhetoric on stage in Orlando, the former president signaled his determination to seek vengeance by issuing a statement Friday afternoon announcing his support for a former aide, Max Miller, who tried to oust Rep Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican. Mr Gonzalez voted last month to indict Mr Trump.
“We represent pro-Trump, America’s first wing of the conservative movement,” said Florida representative Matt Gaetz, who traveled to Wyoming in January to demand the overthrow of Ms. Cheney. “It turns out that populism is popular.”
Mr DeSantis suggested that the current threat from the left was too dangerous for conservatives to delve into the intricacies of politics.
“We can sit around and have academic debates on conservative politics, we can,” he said. “But the question is when the klieg lights will be hot when the left comes after you: will you stay strong or will you fold?”
For Republicans seeking a presidential bid in 2024, Mr. Trump’s influence was profoundly felt, with Mr. DeSantis, Mr. Cruz, and others emphasizing their willingness to “fight”. It was unclear exactly what they were going to fight for, but everyone seemed to agree on what they were mobilizing against.
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley had barely reminded the audience that he had protested against the confirmation of Mr Biden’s election before the crowd cheered and offered him a standing ovation. “I got up and said, ‘We should have a debate about electoral integrity,” said Hawley.
In particular, however, Mr. Hawley used his speech more to whip tech companies than to defend Mr. Trump or litigate the election.
“The Republican Party, we were once the party of the Trustbusters,” he said. “We invented the concept. It is time to reclaim that legacy. “
Similarly, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton – another potential 2024 presidential candidate whose ambitions Mr Trump could block – targeted what he portrayed as excesses of the left.
“There is no threat to America more damaging than the rejection of our founding principles, heritage and traditions,” he said, vowing never to bow down to a politically correct mob.
For all their basic rhetoric, Mr. Cotton and Senator Rick Scott of Florida, who also spoke ahead of the conference, were only rewarded with polite applause for their policy-making statements from an audience that appeared to be unwilling to continue from last year’s election.
When Mr. Hawley tried a riff on Joe Biden’s America, someone in the audience yelled, “Trump!”
For his part, Mr. Cruz used much of his speech to focus on a more pressing matter: damage control.
His performance came just days after he traveled to Cancun, Mexico to vacation in Texas in the middle of a deadly snowstorm, and Mr. Cruz tried to use humor to defuse the controversy.
“I have to say Orlando is great,” he said as he opened his speech. “It’s not as beautiful as Cancun – but it’s beautiful!”
Mr Cruz had been harshly criticized by prominent Democrats for abandoning his constituents at a time of controversy. But among the participants on Friday, the moment created a winning smile line.
In an address entitled “Bill of Rights, Liberty and Cancel Culture,” Mr. Cruz urged the left and media to “educate themselves” on many of the issues that have shaped America over the past year.
Shortly before Mr Cruz’s speech, the CPAC organizers had been taunted by the audience when they paused the program to ask them to wear their masks. Even so, Mr Cruz made fun of pandemic rules such as wearing masks in restaurants and also joked about the protests against police brutality that spread across big cities last summer, some of which became violent.
There were no such demonstrations in Houston, he said, “because we should be very clear: if there had been, they would have found out what the people of Texas think about the second amendment and the right to bear arms.” The audience laughed again.
In previous incarnations of this convention, particularly after the Republicans’ losses, there were vows to return to the first principles.
However, in an example of how Mr Trump changed the party, there was strikingly little mention of spending being cut back at a moment when Congress Democrats are scrambling to restore earmarks.
Similarly, the political issues raised were geared more to race and identity than to the type of Christian conservatism that once the G.O.P. There was little mention of abortion and little talk about sexuality, despite the House Democrats passing a law that allowed L.G.B.T. Rights on Thursday.
Mr. Gaetz mocked the decision to remove the gender prefix from the Mr. Potato Head brand. But even that hint was a more pressing issue in the spirit of what he was proposing. “Mr. Potato Head was America’s first transgender doll and even it was canceled,” he said.