The annual Conservative Political Action Conference — traditionally the who's who of Republican politics — will look a lot different in 2021.
For the first time since the event began in 1974, CPAC will not take place in the Washington, D.C., area, but rather in Florida, because the Republican-run state is allowing the conference to take place without coronavirus restrictions as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.
It's not a marked difference from CPAC 2020, which was one of the first potential superspreader events of the pandemic in February 2020, forcing a number of Republican lawmakers into quarantine after they were exposed to a positive coronavirus case at the annual gathering.
"@GovRonDeSantis believes that schools, churches & football should be open for business. So, we decided that @CPAC should move to #FL to allow Americans a healthy outlet in an attempt to fight lockdowns & cancel culture," Matt Schlapp, the chair of the group that puts on CPAC, tweeted on Tuesday. "We are also hoping to have a beer with America's Governor."
Also not on the list of this year's speakers is Donald Trump, nor anyone who shares his last name — though it's unclear whether they'll be added at the last minute.
That's a marked difference from the past four years, when Trump delivered rambling, lie-filled diatribes from the stage as the event's headliner. Trump's children — Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump — also received prime speaking roles during his term.
Yet CPAC will still be a who's who of Republican lawmakers looking to raise their national profiles, whether it's ahead of rumored 2024 presidential bids or other runs for higher offices, alongside right-wing media personalities looking to push the Republican culture war du jour.
Here's a list of who is coming to this year's event:
The 2024 GOP Hopefuls
A speech at CPAC has in years past been an item on the checklist for Republicans running in presidential primaries.
In 2015, CPAC was a must-attend event for the large slate of Republicans running for the 2016 nomination. Those GOP hopefuls ended up being steamrolled by Trump, who went on to win the Republican nomination that year.
With Trump toying with a possible 2024 comeback bid, the GOP presidential field is thus far frozen.
However, some of the Republicans rumored to be eyeing runs are speaking at this year's event.
They include South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who has been boasting about her refusal to follow expert advice to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Rick Scott of Florida are also on the list of speakers.
The Pro-Insurrection Caucus
Some of the loudest voices in the House whose lies about voter fraud helped lead to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol will also be speaking.
Reps. Mo Brooks (R-AL) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ) are on the list of speakers.
Brooks organized a group of GOP lawmakers to travel to the White House to strategize with Trump about the effort to block certification of President Joe Biden's win. That strategy session preceded the insurrection, which left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.
Gosar was also said to be working with the White House on the Electoral College objections.
Freshman Reps. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina and Lauren Boebert of Colorado are also on the list. Cawthorn called for Trump supporters to "lightly threaten" lawmakers to overturn Biden's victory. While Boebert — who has dabbled in the dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory that a number of the insurrectionists followed — also pushed voter fraud lies and called for Jan. 6 to be "1776."
Two of Trump's biggest defenders — Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Jim Jordan of Ohio — are also slated to speak. Both men propped up Trump's election lies, and have since been trying to absolve Trump of guilt for inciting the Jan. 6 riot by trying to shift blame onto House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Far-Right Media Personalities
Right-wing media figures also use CPAC to keep up the following to continue their Fox News contracts or other conservative media programs.
James O'Keefe, who runs Project Veritas — which releases altered and misleading "sting" footage on left-leaning groups and mainstream media outlets — is slated to speak. His group's Twitter account was permanently suspended last week for "repeated violations of Twitter's private information policy," the Verge reported.
Also slated is Dan Bongino, a Fox News contributor who has run multiple failed bids for Congress. Bongino was recently ordered to pay $30,000 in legal fees to the Daily Beast, which he sued for defamation for reporting that he was let go from his gig working for the National Rifle Association's failed television network. The Daily Beast article was not deemed defamatory, and Bongino lost the case.
Matthew Boyle, a pro-Trump Breitbart reporter, and Kurt Schlichter, another right-wing commentator, are also on the lineup.
Scattered among the GOP politicians and conservative media personalities this year are people thrust into the right-wing spotlight for their refusal to adhere to coronavirus regulations to slow the spread of the deadly virus.
On the list of speakers is Shelley Luther, a hair salon owner in Texas who was jailed for not following coronavirus restrictions. Luther has become a darling of Fox News, who ran her story as the network fought against virus mitigation measures.
And Ian Smith, a New Jersey gym owner who was also arrested for refusing to follow statewide orders regarding gyms, is also speaking. Smith's gym now faces more than $1.2 million in fines for refusing to follow virus prevention regulations.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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