The Sad, Desolate Scenes of CPAC 2023

“There’s no longer a gathering storm,” Steve Bannon told the crowd; “The storm is here!” Nah. It isn’t, not really. Last year at Orlando and then at Dallas, these speakers spoke in voices full of fire and brimstone. The Democrats, newly in power, had touched off the Marxist apocalypse. In response, CPAC’s bully-pulpiteers promised the total annihilation of their enemies after the Big Red Wave. None of it happened. The Republicans barely gained control of the house and, worse, the predicted apocalypse never really arrived. Prices are still high, but stabilizing. The border is no worse, the fentanyl epidemic is no worse. The federal debt is still high. The world feels as gray as the DC weather. For the people in love with Trump’s adrenaline-fueled politics, that might be worse than fire and brimstone.

Bannon surely knows this. He does what he can to conjure the End Times energy. Here it comes: imminent economic doom due to the debt ceiling and funding Ukraine; World War III due to Iranian and Chinese machinations. But his real vitriol is reserved for the “elites” and for the betrayers, specifically Fox News. “[Fox doesn’t] respect you. Read the depositions,” he says, referring to the recent bombshell testimony that Fox hosts knew the election was stolen and pushed the narrative anyway.” They have a fear, a loathing and a contempt for you.” This is war—it’s always war with Bannon, one way or another. “‘We need unity, we need unity,’” he says, imitating Fox News. “We’re not looking for unity, we’re looking for victory!” The crowd roars to their feet.

It’s not the only feud, another attendee pointed out to me, and he’s not wrong. You can’t take two steps without running into either vicious infighting or complete catastrophe. The Daily Wire vs Stephen Crowder. Project Veritas in shambles. News articles about Matt Schlapp, the long-time face of CPAC, all feature at least a paragraph about the male Herschel Walker staffer who alleges that Schlapp nonconsensually “grabbed [his] junk and pummeled it at length.” Fox versus Trump, DeSantis versus Trump, the Club for Growth versus the ACU…it’s infighting all the way down.