In many ways, this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference—the annual gathering of right-wing activists, wonks, and politicos sponsored by the American Conservative Union, which took place this weekend in Orlando, Florida—was worlds away from last year’s edition.
The CPAC of February 2020, held per usual at the Gaylord Convention Center just outside D.C., took place just as the nation was getting seriously spooked about what was then known as the “novel coronavirus,” and it ended up featuring one of the nation’s first high-profile COVID scares. One pandemic later, this year’s jamboree unfolded at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando, Florida—a state more laissez-faire than Maryland about thousands of mask-averse out-of-towners cramming into a hotel ballroom for hours on end.
Last year’s CPAC, taking place in the thick of the Democratic presidential primary, was full of election-year swagger, from the “America vs. Socialism” theme on down. One deflating electoral defeat later, 2021’s CPAC was a grumpier affair, with time slot after time slot given over to morose finger-pointing about what the heck happened in November. The event theme was significantly less cocky: “America Uncanceled.”
But one thing about this year’s conference was exactly the same as last year: Despite everything that’s taken place between then and now, CPAC and its attendees remained fiercely loyal to Donald J. Trump. From the MAGA hats festooning the crowd to the giant gold-painted statue of Trump himself that became a main attraction in the merchandise hall (“It’s definitely not an idol,” its sculptor insisted), it was plain that the Florida conference remained firmly centered around the ex-president, himself now a full-time Florida resident.