US president Donald J. Trump will speak to 10,000 right-wing voters, deep-pocketed donors, and provocative pundits tomorrow (Feb. 24), at the Conservative Political Action Conference. It should be a celebration: Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress, thanks in part to Trump’s unexpectedly successful campaign that embraced some of the very positions CPAC has championed in recent years.
Instead, the conservative movement in America is deeply divided. Just one month after Trump’s inauguration, Tea Party factions and conservative Christians are grumbling, on everything from the time it is taking to repeal Obamacare, to the administration’s failure to support a Washington state florist who refuses to work on same-sex weddings.
The recent controversy over proposed CPAC speaker Milo Yiannopolous—a race-baiting provocateur whose CPAC invitation was withdrawn after he appeared to endorse pedophilia—has only highlighted those differences, with many conservatives aghast he was invited in the first place.
But there’s one thing Trump and other CPAC attendees can still heartily agree on: The awfulness of the mainstream media.
“This is why people who antagonize the liberal media do so well,” said Steve Deace, a conservative Christian radio talk show host. ”One of the few things our movement seems to agree on the bias of the media, and that they are against us.”
Other than that, he said, it’s not clear what American conservatism stands for right now. “You ask 10 people what you are for and you get five different answers,” Deace said. “That’s not a movement—it might be an alliance, or a shotgun wedding, or friends with benefits.”
But when it comes to the media, “It is a little bit like when your favorite college team sucks, and all you do is root against your chief rival losing,” he added.
Trump referred last week to a wide swathe of the mainstream press as the “enemy of the people,” taking a page from Chinese dictator Mao Zedong, and his campaign and administration have unabashedly labeled any negative coverage as “fake news.” And it appears to be working—just a slim majority of Americans say they trust the media more than Trump in a recent poll, and 78% of Republicans say they trust Trump more.
CPAC’s lineup this year hasn’t done much to unify conservatives, even without Yiannopoulos (who Deace calls “human clickbait”). Speakers include Nigel Farage, the British politician who helped push the vote for Brexit by lying about funding for national health services, and Wisconsin sheriff David Clarke Jr., who has alleged, without evidence, that Black Lives Matter is allied with ISIL.
The controversy that CPAC has been courting is not Christian, Deace said. “Christians are not for chaos,” he said. “We’re here to help restore the heavenly order, the way things used to be before sin entered the world.”
Instead, Christians involved in CPAC have become immersed in partisan politics, Deace said. “They’ve exchanged the false gospel of politics for the real gospel.”