A heresy-hunt at CPAC

This big-game hunting of RINOs (“Republicans in Name Only”), the replacing of unreliably conservative candidates with the undereducated and unelectable ones, lost the party a number of safe seats in recent years. And as anyone who has attended a recent CPAC has witnessed, the “grassroots activists” of the right—a rather different species from the average Republican voter—seem increasingly incapable of calmly arguing that America is being forced off the road to prosperity and onto the road to serfdom. Concerns about overweening government, which one could manage with sensible anecdotes about debt, drones, and taxes, are punctuated with an invocation of Marx or Mao. (At the 2011 CPAC, I spent 10 bizarre minutes chatting with the president of the John Birch Society, a “co-sponsor” of that year’s event.)

Between the babble about ascendent American Leninism and the infiltration of the ACU by operatives of the Muslim Brotherhood (seriously), one can’t help but be reminded of an ideology CPAC attendees profess to loathe. In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell noted that his comrades on the left frequently obsessed over ideological purity: “Sometimes, when I listen to these people talking…I get the impression that, to them, the whole socialist movement is no more than a kind of exciting heresy-hunt—a leaping to and fro of frenzied witch-doctors to the beat of tom-toms and the tune of ‘Fee fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of a right-wing deviationist!”…

The instinct that there is something rotten—or at least broken—in modern conservatism isn’t limited to those on the party’s socially liberal, libertarian-leaning wing. In The American Conservative, Rod Dreher wrote recently that “even though I’m a middle-aged, churchgoing white right-winger who has not the slightest attraction to liberalism, I increasingly don’t want to be associated with what ‘conservative’ means here and now.” A number of conservative journalists I spoke with expressed similar dissatisfaction with the state of “the movement,” all chuckling when asked if they would be attending CPAC. Too many kooks, said one. Too much Gingrich and Trump, said another.