Members of the conservative movement came to Dallas over the weekend to network and hear speeches from an array of politicians at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Speaker after speaker used extreme language to inspire the crowd to stay energized against liberal politicians and causes.
“This is not just about Democrats and Republicans,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said as he kicked off the event on Friday. “This is about darkness and light. This is about goodness and evil.”
There were panels focused on policy issues like the opioid epidemic and energy independence, but the main message from almost every speaker was that life and liberty are on the line with conservatives out of power in Washington.
Discrediting opponents as legitimate voices in this way – including saying they’re not the real authorities when they win – erodes democracy, according to Jennifer McCoy, a political science professor at Georgia State University.
“It encourages supporters of the losing party to refuse to comply with governmental instructions or laws that are passed. And to refuse to accept expert information,” McCoy said.
She said the country’s prolonged struggle to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic is one example of how delegitimizing political opponents has real life consequences.
The culmination of the conference was a speech by former President Donald Trump. He entered a ballroom at the Hilton Anatole to huge applause and spoke for over an hour.
“These are vicious, vicious people,” Trump said of Democrats. “And they will destroy our country and they will do everything that they can to do it.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did not speak at the event. He called a special legislative session that held hearings over the weekend on a bill making it harder to vote.
There were few mentions of the Jan. 6 insurrection from the CPAC stage. That day, Trump urged rioters to storm the U.S. Capitol. Hundreds entered the building and disrupted the ceremonial counting of electoral votes. Experts and election officials agree 2020 was a fair election that lacked the widespread fraud rioters claimed.
The former president also won a straw poll of attendees that asked who they would vote for if the Republican primary for president were held today. With him in the running, Trump was the choice of 70% of respondents, followed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis with 21%. Abbott registered 0%.
CPAC also ran the poll without Trump among the choices. DeSantis won 68%, with the rest in single digits. Abbott garnered 1% in that poll.
Trump elicited laughs among the Dallas crowd with his strategy for reacting to the CPAC straw poll.
“Now if it’s bad,” he said, “I say it’s fake. If it’s good, I say, ‘That’s the most accurate poll perhaps ever.’”