A welcome and maybe even timely message, especially coming from someone whom most righty populists esteem.
I wish I believed that most of the base agrees with him.
The results of Sunday’s CPAC straw poll don’t give me hope. Asked to choose from a list of potential 2024 nominees that included many well-known conservatives, attendees opted for a populist-nationalist by a landslide.
Donald Trump won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll on Sunday, with 59 percent of respondents saying they would vote for the former president in the 2024 presidential primary.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis was runner-up with 28 percent of the vote, according to the poll conducted at CPAC by secret ballot. Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo trailed with 2 percent.
DeSantis improved on his share in last year’s CPAC straw poll — but so did Trump, rising from 55 percent to 59. As you’ll see, Levin began his lecture to the audience in the clip below by reminding them that “CPAC” stands for “Conservative Political Action Committee,” not “Populist Political Action Committee” or “Nationalist Political Action Committee.” Which is true, but six years too late. In March 2016, after he had emerged as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, Trump responded to criticism that he wasn’t conservative enough on policy with this memorable line: “Don’t forget, this is called the Republican Party. It’s not called the Conservative Party.”
Conservative Republicans rewarded him for that by making him the most popular right-wing leader since Reagan. Yesterday, no less than 97 percent of attendees at the Conservative Political Action Committee said they approved of him 13 months after he tried to overturn a national election.
Levin is correct on the merits but this battle for hearts and minds was lost some time ago.
On the other hand, this is an opportune moment to try to steer conservatives away from populist-nationalism. There aren’t many conservatives who sympathize with Putin and Russian expansionism, no matter how often Putin mouths insincere platitudes about defending Christianity. There are some nationalists who do. The past week hasn’t been great for them, either here or abroad. Newsmax is a populist right-wing outfit but its owner, Chris Ruddy, can take only so much Putin apologism from certain quarters:
The Friday statement, issued by Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy to media blog The Righting for a report on how the network is covering the invasion of Ukraine, explicitly condemned [Tucker] Carlson:
“Newsmax believes Russia has made a major transgression and this should be condemned strongly by all people. I think we are seeing for conservatives a clarity moment where Fox News’ main host is stating categorically he is siding with Putin and Russia in support of the invasion. Newsmax supports President Biden’s efforts to stop this invasion, if anything we think he is not being strong enough. We believe there is a bipartisan consensus in opposition to this dangerous aggression.”
There aren’t many mainstream conservatives whom you’re likely to find at a white-nationalist conference either, but you will occasionally find a well-known populist there:
As Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep Paul Gosar speak at this white supremacist, anti-Semitic, pro-Putin event, silence by Republican Party leaders is deafening and enabling.
All Americans should renounce this garbage and reject the Putin wing of the GOP now. pic.twitter.com/6fgpV6ohZ8
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) February 26, 2022
Greene claimed afterward that she had no idea what sort of audience she was addressing when she turned up at the American First Political Action Conference, held opposite CPAC. Literally no one believes her.
By the way, on the CPAC straw poll ballot without Trump, DeSantis won in a landslide with 61 percent of the vote to just six percent each for second-place Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump Jr. (Ted Cruz, who for awhile during the last decade was probably the most prominent conservative politician in the country, got three percent.) If there was any doubt that he’s the overwhelming, almost prohibitive favorite among conservative activists if Trump doesn’t run, that should erase it. Whether DeSantis would govern as a conservative or a populist if elected president is anyone’s guess, however. The traditional conservative position of letting business owners run their shop the way they want isn’t the DeSantis position. The populist position of making sure the unvaccinated are treated like some sort of vulnerable class for purposes of discrimination law is.
Oh well. Since Trump appears to be running again and since even the conservatives at CPAC seem to strongly prefer him to DeSantis, I suppose we’ll never know. By 2028, the governor will be old news, having missed his moment.
Maybe we’ll have nothing but populist-nationalists on the ballot that year.
Here’s Levin, who — I think — is aiming here at the malign influence Tucker and Steve Bannon currently enjoy over the GOP base.