The 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference proved that it’s still Donald Trump’s Republican Party, but then you knew that. So did the organizers, the attendees, and the politicians who attended.
It’s why the conference moved from its traditional home outside Washington, D.C., to Florida. Oh, sure, COVID-19 restrictions played a part, but CPAC could have chosen any number of places to relocate, and it chose the former president’s home state, hoping he’d attend—as he did. (Why bring the base to Washington when you can take Washington to the base?)
It’s why an artist brought a literal golden idol of the former president and attendees eagerly posed with it. It’s why Trump merchandise flew off vendor tables, why Trump gave the keynote, and why Trump won the presidential straw poll. It’s why even ambitious potential rivals for power paid effusive homage. “Let me tell you this right now: Donald J. Trump ain’t goin’ anywhere,” Senator Ted Cruz told attendees. They didn’t need Cruz to tell them.
Hero worship is not new to CPAC—before there was Trump, there was Ronald Reagan—but no former president has ever dominated the conference in this way, because he is still a concern for 2024. (Reagan and George W. Bush each served two terms; among one-termers, Gerald Ford was a known squish and George H. W. Bush a presumed squish who had a chilly relationship with the conference.) The 2024 GOP presidential primary may be a wild affair, but Trump’s continued dominance poses a more immediate quandary for the Republican Party in 2022.