What a difference a year — and an election — make. A year ago, Donald Trump canceled a planned appearance at CPAC, claiming a scheduling conflict with a campaign event in Wichita, Kansas. At the time, anti-Trump activists had been organizing a walkout of his speech, which left the impression that Trump didn’t want the drama. At the time, CPAC offered a sharp retort to the cancellation:
— CPAC 2021 (@CPAC) March 4, 2016
Clearly, all is now forgiven:
— Matt Schlapp (@mschlapp) February 20, 2017
In this case, of course, it should be forgiven … or at least forgotten. Whether or not movement conservatives backed Trump a year ago is irrelevant now. Trump won the election, and he matters for those hoping to push a conservative legislative and executive agenda for the next four years. In the short period of time since Trump’s election, the policies and personnel decisions made should give movement conservatives plenty of hope for the direction of the administration and the opportunities for a Republican-controlled Congress, even if the White House is hardly winning on style points in its first month. Vice President Mike Pence had already accepted a speaking slot at CPAC, which makes this a rare opportunity to hear from both offices at the same conference.
Of course, this is hardly the most controversial item on the CPAC agenda. ACU executive director Matt Schlapp announced over the weekend that right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos would speak at the conference — not the keynote speech, as widely reported, but from the main floor — and criticism immediately poured into the American Conservative Union. That peaked when a video compiled from at least two different appearances left the impression that Milo endorsed pederasty:
🚨 Breaking: We obtained the #CPAC2017 Milo Yiannopoulos introductory video.
This is a must watch!
— Reagan Battalion (@ReaganBattalion) February 19, 2017
This prompted an even greater avalanche of criticism, and even the ACU’s board seemingly distanced itself from the decision. Schlapp defended the invitation as a recognition of Milo’s fight for free speech at Berkeley, but most weren’t buying it. Jake Tapper offered a series of stinging criticisms on Twitter about the invitation, asking at the end, “Has everyone lost their minds?”
Preying on children is the definition of evil. Justifying it in any way is sick and disturbing.
Has everyone lost their minds?
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 20, 2017
Milo responded by accusing the video editors of taking soundbites out of context, while acknowledging that he’d used imprecise language and muddied up his point in the interviews (click See More to expand to full):
Whether or not one accepts that, the invitation to Yiannopoulos raises another question. In 2011, CPAC removed the gay Republican group GOProud from its participating-organization lists despite its conservative positions on policy after other conservative groups objected to their inclusion. Despite an endorsement from Sarah Palin for their inclusion, the ACU booted GOProud for “taunting” Cleta Mitchell after an ill-advised interview given by Chris Barron in which he called Mitchell a “nasty bigot.”
Mainly, though, Al Cardenas explained that any organization that backed gays in the military and same-sex marriage couldn’t be included at CPAC. Even if one accepts Milo’s rebuttal, which seems fairly detailed (although ignores the claims of anti-Semitism), he has made a career of being much more provocative on LGBT (and “alt-right”) issues than GOProud ever dreamed. If CPAC wasn’t big enough to support GOProud, a now-defunct conservative answer to the more progressive Log Cabin Republicans, then it’s difficult to justify Milo’s invitation to be a featured speaker — at least not without a heartfelt apology to the former members of GOProud who were so unceremoniously rejected from the conservative gathering.
Finally, it’s worth asking one final question about where the conservative movement goes in the Trump era. The Right has been castigating the media and the opposition for continuing to litigate the election, rather than focusing on policies and action. As entertaining and provocative a figure Milo is, should the conservative movement parrot the Left by also continuing to focus on provocation? Or should the focus of CPAC at this point be on policies and agendas at the very moment we have the best opportunity in a decade or more to achieve real gains?
Update: After an ACU board conference call, CPAC has withdrawn its invitation to Milo Yiannopoulos:
— Matt Schlapp (@mschlapp) February 20, 2017
I think this is the right call for the reasons given here, but also because CPAC should be focused on conservative action for policies, especially in the post-election setting.
Update: Milo has another statement out in response, in which he takes partial responsibility for the controversy over his remarks. He wants to put his positions on the record now:
Update: Guy Benson has further thoughts.