Mainstream Republicans have had an uneasy relationship with the White House since Donald Trump was elected in November. Most have remained mum as Trump battles the US intelligence community, flouts conflicts-of-interest norms, and proposes upending longstanding policies on everything from China to Israel, and few on the right have criticized Trump, his demonization of the press, or some of his hastier executive orders.
But a scheduled appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week by Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial Breitbart editor and Trump fan made famous by top Trump advisor Stephen Bannon, was apparently a bridge too far.
CPAC on Monday cancelled his appearance after a video emerged that shows Yiannopoulos supporting pedophelia. Simon & Schuster also said it would no longer publish a planned book by Yiannopoulos titled Dangerous. There were also reports of a revolt among Breitbart staffers calling on Yiannopoulos to be fired.
It was a rapid fall from grace for the conservative firebrand.
Yiannopoulos was kicked off Twitter for unleashing a racist torrent of abuse on comedian Leslie Jones, has written essays advocating fat-shaming, and is often blamed for amplifying Gamergate into a full-blown attack on women in gaming. That rap sheet didn’t seem to bother CPAC schedulers, who invited Yiannopoulos to speak at the three-day conference that begins Wednesday because “an epidemic of speech suppression has taken over college campuses.”
That was Saturday. By Monday, a conservative blog that that calls itself the “Reagan Battalion” had unearthed an interview from 2016 in which Yiannopoulos jokes that his molestation at the hands of a priest explains why he gives “good head,” and argues that some boys “are capable of giving consent at a younger age” than is legal to adult men who want to have sex with them.
In the wake of the video, many conservatives moved to distance themselves from CPAC’s invite, including members of the conference organizer’s board. On Monday afternoon, Yiannopoulos’s invitation was rescinded “due to the revelation of an offensive video in the past 24 hours condoning pedophilia,” CPAC chair Matt Schlapp said.
Schlapp was quick to point out earlier that Yiannopoulos was not the keynote speaker, as had been reported. Michael Reagan, the adopted son of president Ronald Reagan, and Ronald Reagan’s first wife, Jane Wyman, will have that honor.
That arrangement made the Yiannopoulos invitation even more baffling. The younger Reagan has been an outspoken critic of Trump, suggesting before the election that he was embarrassed by him. After Trump’s win, Reagan said he was glad his father was not alive to see what’s happening in Washington, D.C.
Reagan has also been very open about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a Beverly Hills camp counselor when he was less than 10 years old. An outline of his 1988 autobiography described a boy who was “so neglected the youth that he regarded as a father figure the man who ran the camp where he went after school each day,” as the New York Times reported in 1987.
The camp leader “abused him for nearly a year on daily automobile drives,” and took a photo of the young Reagan in the nude that he worried for decades would be made public. ”When Dad ran for President,” he wrote in the outline, ”I had visions of him losing because those pictures taken 34 years ago might turn up.”