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On Wednesday night eastern time last week, Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. On Thursday morning, the Conservative Political Action Conference kicked off its annual gathering in Orlando, Florida. Against the backdrop of a real war, the culture warriors at CPAC (which I spent hours watching on the CPAC website) looked even pettier than usual. Republicans were serving up their usual list of grievances while brave Ukrainians were taking up arms to defend their country from Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump, a keynote speaker, is, of course, an unabashed Putin fanboy. Russian troops were preparing to close in on Kyiv as Texas Senator Ted Cruz was rolling into Orlando to ask the CPAC audience to subscribe to his podcast. More than anything, the culture warriors wanted to promote their own brands.
It certainly says something that the competing conference—the America First Political Action Conference, held at the Orlando World Center Marriott—was for white nationalists. Then there was the CPAC audience’s bewilderment over how to respond to Putin attacking Ukraine. The official straw poll of 2,574 attendees revealed that 62 percent believe that “Joe Biden’s incompetence” is the “greatest threat to America’s safety and national security,” while 3 percent view Russia as a threat. Could this have anything to do with Trump and Putin complimenting each other for years?
The more mainstream—but still terrible!—Republicans who gave speeches resorted to tired culture-war-mongering. Given an unenviable early-Friday-morning slot, perpetually diminished Florida Senator Marco Rubio rotely complained about “Marxism.” So did Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who told the crowd, “Wokeism is a form of cultural Marxism.” Ted Cruz, in a conversation with former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, said, “Putin is less dangerous than China. Putin is basically a KGB thug … In the long term, I believe China is our single greatest geopolitical adversary for the next century.” Maybe so, but why downplay Putin’s threat at this moment in history?
European countries have opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees, but CPAC speakers railed against immigrants. Lukasz Kmita, the head of Poland’s Malopolska region, reportedly said that there would be “no limits” on the number of refugees they would take. DeSantis told the crowd, “If Biden is dumping illegal aliens into Florida from the southern border, I’m rerouting them to Delaware.” Dehumanizing immigrants was a winning message for the GOP in the Trump years. Does it still play when American television is filled with images of Europeans welcoming Ukrainians?
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