NATIONAL HARBOR, MD, IN A INTERNET-FREE ZONE: For the first time in a couple of years, Hot Air has returned to CPAC — and CPAC may have returned to the Cold War. Organizers expect a historic turnout for the 47th annual conference for conservative activists, and “historic” might end up being its theme. Not since Ronald Reagan himself spoke at CPAC has the fight against socialism become so relevant.

In my CPAC curtain-raiser for The Week, I run through the agenda and fight very tight message discipline. Even Donald Trump takes a back seat to the focus that will begin with Mike Pence’s speech today, although Trump won’t be overlooked either:

Eight of the presentations at the conference are specifically dedicated to socialism, such as Thursday morning’s session on “Socialism: Wrecker of Nations and Destroyer of Societies,” emceed by former Trump administration national-security official KT McFarland. Half of those events are main-stage sessions as opposed to breakout sessions, showing the heightened focus on this mission.

By contrast, only three general-session events other than Trump’s Saturday address to the conference has Trump as its explicit focus. Two of those are main-stage discussions with Trump family members (Lara Trump, Ivanka Trump), and the other an address by Trump campaign booster (and Donald Trump Jr. girlfriend) Kimberly Guilfoyle. …

The agenda has its own message to activists — emphasize “socialism.” The words “liberal” and “progressive” are entirely absent from this agenda. In any other cycle, that would be seen as either hyperbole or an anachronism. Sanders’ rise in the Democratic primary has made it both timely and at least within reach of Sanders’ own rhetoric, especially after his remarks about Castro and the communist regime in China this week.

Make no mistake about it — Sanders will be the indispensable man at CPAC. And he might just end up as its most unifying figure since Ronald Reagan.

According to a source connected to the planning, this focus is no mistake. The Trump campaign wants to make the 2020 choice as stark as it could possibly be — either choose Trump and American enterprise, or Sanders and Fidel-style socialism. That’s not to say that CPAC hasn’t always had that kind of focus — it has, but usually the messaging has been about “liberals” or “progressives” rather than socialists. This time around, there won’t be much mention of the softer terms, thanks to Sanders’ rise in the presidential contest.

That also largely absolves CPAC of debating Trump’s performance as the banner-carrier for American enterprise, too. Would CPAC have had that debate if another Democrat had taken the lead? (They disinvited Mitt Romney over his impeachment vote, so it’s not as though they were inclined toward it anyway.) Probably not if it had been Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, or even Pete Buttigieg, all of whom favor the progressive agenda, but it would have at least been slightly more difficult to avoid. If the runaway candidate had been Joe Biden, the focus here might have been more on Barack Obama’s administration and track record, or if it was Amy Klobuchar, perhaps more on granular policy, but either would have created more pressure (from the outside, anyway) to address Trump’s track record from the perspective of traditional conservative principles and agenda.

Thanks to the rise of The Bern, though, CPAC’s off the hook. No matter what flavor of conservative shows up here, no matter what they think of Trump’s comportment and self-focus, nothing compares to the dangers of electing an avowed socialist to the presidency. Conservatives here will find that a uniting message. Democrats did CPAC a huge favor this year by not only providing a unifying figure, but also a unifying battle cry for 2020.

Jazz Shaw and I will be prowling the hallways and doing media hits for the next two days, so our own posting will be sparse. We will try to get our own interviews with newsmakers as well, but the Internet connections at CPAC have not improved much since the heady days of Blogger Row in the Omni Shoreham hotel’s largely unheated garage in 2005. Stay tuned for news at our Facebook page, and for fun clips from Allahpundit and John Sexton as they emerge.