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The golden statue of the former president being wheeled through the halls of the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday may have been a touch on the nose, considering the obvious Old Testament allusion.
But if you were looking for clues about the direction of the Republican Party after the Trump years, an effigy of Donald Trump in an American flag bathing suit may be as symbolic as any golden calf.
In recent years, CPAC has evolved from a family reunion of Republican libertarians, social conservatives and a hawkish foreign policy establishment into Trump-chella.
This year has been no exception, with speaker after speaker focusing on the pet issues of the former president. “Are your votes being distorted?” one ominous video asked, flashing photos of President Biden on the big screen. Mr. Trump plans to address the crowd on Sunday and anything he says about his future political ambitions will inevitably overshadow the entire event.
Yet, the former president may not end up running again — continuing legal issues could kill his bid — but there’s little question that he leaves the party reshaped in his image. Even though Mr. Trump often failed to articulate a comprehensive policy doctrine, he has fundamentally remade what being a Republican means.
That shift was made strikingly clear in the remarks of politicians who hope to lead their party into the future — with or without Mr. Trump.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a rock star in conservative circles right now, laid out a pretty concise summary of the new conservatism in his speech on Friday: Anti-“adventurism” abroad, anti-big technology companies, anti-immigration, anti-China and anti-lockdowns.
“We cannot — we will not — go back to the days of the failed Republican establishment of yesteryear,” he said, proclaiming Florida to be an “oasis of freedom” in a country suffering from the “the yoke of oppressive lockdowns.”
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who opened his remarks with a joke about his much-criticized trip to a Cancún resort, cast conservatives as Jedi “rebels” against the “rigid conformity” of the socialist left — a call to arms at an event steeped in complaints of cultural victimhood. This year’s conference is titled “America Uncanceled.”
But Mr. Cruz also had a message for members of his own party.
“There’s a whole lot of voices in Washington that want to just erase the past four years, want to go back to the world before,” he said. “Let me tell ya right now: Donald J. Trump ain’t goin’ anywhere.”
Josh Hawley, a junior senator from Missouri, after defending his efforts to contest the election results as “taking a stand,” proclaimed a “new nationalism” that included breaking up technology companies, standing up to China and tightening borders. The “oligarchs” and “corporate media,” he said, want to divide Americans with “lies” like systemic racism. Hours before his speech, Mr. Hawley announced legislation requiring a $15 minimum wage for corporations with revenues over $1 billion.
None of the men, it’s worth noting, made any reference to Mr. Biden, a sign that the party continues to lack any cohesive line of attack against the new administration.
But what was equally striking is how far the speeches differed from traditional Republican ideology. A party that has defined itself as defenders of the free market now believes big technology companies wield too much power and the government needs to put more restrictions in place. Concerns about interventionism abroad have replaced hawkish doctrine as the driving foreign policy force. Nativism has gone mainstream and the politics of cultural grievance, focused heavily around race, dominate among conservatives that once delighted in mocking sensitive liberal “snowflakes.”
Of course, some of this rhetoric isn’t quite accurate. Although pandemic rules vary across the country, stay-at-home orders are lifted in all states and businesses are largely open in most. Even as Republicans fret about being “canceled” by liberals, local parties in recent weeks have censured members of Congress who strayed from overwhelming support of Mr. Trump.
But Mr. Cruz is correct that there are some Republicans who hope that the party will revert to its pre-Trump policies and rhetoric. After watching the speeches at CPAC, it’s hard to imagine how the party could have once rally around a fiscally conservative, hawkish on foreign policy Republican like Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, their 2012 nominee.
Back then, Mr. Romney used the conference to burnish his conservative bona fides during the primary, declaring himself “severely conservative.” But unlike nine years ago, the Republican Party of today is firmly behind Mr. Trump and his brand of populist politics. In a recent Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll, 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.
In interviews with Republican voters this week, many showed little interest in returning to the conservative principles of the past — expressing support for policies like stimulus checks, concern about socialism and a desire for less intervention abroad. Many wanted Mr. Trump to run again. But even those who preferred someone new said they wanted to continue pushing his “America first” agenda.
Tim Faulkner, a retired park supervisor from Elgin, Ariz., said he believed that any potential candidate would have to earn the former president’s support and be able to carry his movement forward.
“There’s a new generation coming up that needs to take the torch, and I think Trump’s role would be helping to secure that foundation,” he said.
Democrats’ $15 minimum wage push hits setback
President Biden and congressional Democrats suffered a major blow this week when the Senate parliamentarian rejected their effort to include a national $15 minimum wage in their stimulus package, undermining part of the new administration’s first legislative push. The procedural action may incite significant intraparty battles — between Senate and House Democrats, who intend to pass the bill with the $15 wage included — and the progressive and moderate wings of the party.
I talked to our ace congressional reporter Emily Cochran about what the legislative ruling means for the wage increase, Democratic politics and why anyone even has to listen to a parliamentarian.
Hi Emily! So who is the Senate parliamentarian and why does she have so much power?
Elizabeth MacDonough, the first woman to hold the post, has served as parliamentarian since 2012. In a chamber steeped in tradition and precedent, she is the arbiter of the rules and procedures. Technically, her rulings are not finite and instead serve as guidance — but rarely does the majority disregard the advice of the parliamentarian.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 was a central promise of Democrats on the campaign trail. What happens to that effort now? Can it still happen?
As written, the current provision is all but guaranteed to fail as part of President Biden’s stimulus plan, which is being moved through Congress on a fast-track process that imposes strict budgetary rules. Democrats are now scrambling to see if there is a way to reframe or adapt the provision to reach the blessing of the parliamentarian and clear the Senate rules as part of the $1.9 trillion plan. If not, the proposal would require 60 votes to clear the Senate through the regular legislative process — and it doesn’t appear to have those votes right now.
Democrats control the White House, Senate and House. What does this tell us about limits on their power?
It’s a reminder of the balancing act that is needed with such slim margins in both the House and the Senate, given that Democrats are not united behind either the increase to the $15 minimum wage or removing the procedural and parliamentary impediments in order to pass their agenda without Republican support. For example, there is a precedent for removing the parliamentarian over a ruling congressional leaders did not like — but the White House has already said it will not remove Ms. MacDonough, even as progressives push for her to be overruled or removed.
By the numbers: 10
… That’s the percentage increase in personal income last month, according to the Commerce Department. It’s the largest jump since April and is almost entirely attributable to the stimulus checks and unemployment insurance payments.
The way we live now: Band practice in Wenatchee, Wash.
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