Donald Trump, the Sequel

The Teenage Awards Music International concert was held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on October 28 and 29, 1964. Free tickets for local high school students. The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, James Brown and the Famous Flames, Marvin Gaye, Jan and Dean, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Rolling Stones, The Supremes – that sort of thing. There’s a concert film shot by director Steve Binder and his crew from The Steve Allen Show, using a precursor to high-definition television, called “Electronovision” – not all that impressive now – but the event was legendary for this:

The show is particularly well known for James Brown and the Famous Flames’ performance, which features his legendary dance moves and explosive energy. In interviews, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones has claimed that choosing to follow Brown and the Famous Flames (Bobby Byrd, Bobby Bennett, and Lloyd Stallworth) was the worst mistake of their careers, because no matter how well they performed, they could not top him. In a web-published interview, Binder takes credit for persuading the Stones to follow Brown, and serve as the centerpiece for the grand finale in which all the performers dance together onstage.

Keith Richards is still furious about that. Opening acts aren’t supposed to be all that good, and the closing act isn’t supposed to be blown away by the awesomeness of the next to last act just before it – but this explains how Mick Jagger suddenly got his new prancing and sneering wild performance style. It was James Brown. He would forever have to top James Brown. Opening acts can be dangerous.

That’s why Donald Trump needs to be careful. Those who opened for him at this year’s CPAC went where he had not yet gone:

The chief executive officer of Goya Foods, Robert Unanue, made a series of false claims about the 2020 election at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday — a little more than a month after the company board took action to limit his polarizing public political remarks.

In 2020, Unanue’s compliments of then-President Donald Trump generated controversy and calls for a boycott of Goya, which markets itself as “the premier source for authentic Latino cuisine.”

After Unanue questioned the legitimacy of the election in a Fox Business interview in January 2021, Goya’s board voted to prevent Unanue from speaking to the media without board permission, according to a source familiar with the board’s action.

They didn’t need this trouble. Those in the Hispanic community who remembered Trump suggesting they were all drug dealers and gang members and rapists and murderers, were about to stop buying Goya products. Unanue had joined with Trump, the enemy. That eventually blew over but now it was this:

On Sunday, though, Unanue appeared on the CPAC stage in Orlando and said: “It’s just an honor to be here. But my biggest honor today is gonna be that – I think we’re gonna be on the same stage – as, in my opinion, the real, the legitimate, and the still actual president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.”

Trump hasn’t gone that far yet. He’s not claiming he’s the real president. Unanue is claiming that. But they both claim this:

Unanue said at CPAC: “But we still have faith that the majority of the people of the United States voted for the president.” He added soon after, “I think a great majority of the people in the United States voted for President Trump, and even a few Democrats.”

There’s no data anywhere that supports that claim. All sixty or more lawsuits that Trump’s team filed to prove otherwise failed. Some were simply dismissed as nonsense. But this is a matter of faith for Unanue, as it seems to be for Trump. But if this is so, then Trump really is president. So, does he have to say that now? This could be difficult. Can he get Putin and Kim and maybe Netanyahu to recognize him at the rightful president of the United States? Even they might balk at that. But at CPAC the audience went wild when Unanue said that Trump is actually the one and only president now. Trump may have to say that now.

The New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher and Elaina Plott point out a bit more of this:

T.W. Shannon, a Republican from Oklahoma, was the first to say it. Speaking Friday morning on a panel called “Tolerance Reimagined: The Angry Mob and Violence in Our Streets,” Mr. Shannon said the reason pro-Trump demonstrators stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 was that “they felt hopeless.”

And that, he said, was “because of a rigged election.”

The election was not rigged, of course, but by the end of CPAC it was clear that the lie Mr. Trump had promoted vigorously had become canon among the base of the Republican Party. On Sunday, the conference’s straw poll results revealed that 62 percent of attendees ranked “election integrity” as the most important issue facing the country.

Trump may have to go there now, with more energy, but that has its dangers:

In interviews, multiple CPAC attendees were adamant that widespread voter fraud had led to the election of Mr. Biden – and some inadvertently suggested the long-term consequences this could pose for the party.

Pamela Roehl, 55, who traveled to the conference from Illinois, said some of her pro-Trump friends had written off civic engagement for good. “They voted for Trump, and they said they’re not going to vote again, because they just feel like it’s so tainted,” she said. “And that is just so sad.”

And that would ruin the party. All their voters drop away. The party disappears. And then there’s Kristi Noem, the governor out there in South Dakota, with this:

Ms. Noem delivered a staunchly pro-Trump message and highlighting the anti-lockdown and anti-mask policies that in the past year have made her a darling of the base of the Republican Party.

She jolted to stardom in Republican circles last year when she refused to issue a lockdown order for South Dakota or to enforce a mask mandate. Instead, she advocated “washing your hands and making good decisions.”

And she’s still a star:

South Dakota now has the country’s eighth-highest death rate from Covid-19. Ms. Noem received a standing ovation at CPAC when she boasted that she had never ordered a “single business or church to close,” and another one when she attacked Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.

In short, that man knows nothing. Ignore the dead bodies. She’s a star now:

In the hours leading up to her speech on Saturday, many attendees praised Ms. Noem as their favorite Republican – apart from Mr. Trump, of course.

“I like Kristi Noem because she fights back,” said Sany Dash, who sold pro-Trump merchandise at the conference. “I feel like she’s a female Trump, except not crass or rude.”

Fauci says wear a mask, do that social distancing, wash your hands, a lot, and get vaccinated soon, or now. Don’t. He’s a fool.

They cheered, and Fauci shrugged:

Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday said South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s criticism of him at the Conservative Political Action Conference was “not really helpful” to the nation’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The remarks from President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser came after Noem, a Republican and an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump, received a standing ovation on Saturday at the American Conservative Union’s annual conference for rebuking Fauci’s public health guidance…

“I don’t know if you agree with me, but Dr. Fauci is wrong a lot,” she said, drawing loud applause from the crowd in Orlando, Fla.

Appearing Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Fauci – the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – described Noem’s remarks as “unfortunate.”

“It is not really helpful. Because sometimes you think things are going well, and just take a look at the numbers. They don’t lie,” he said, adding: “I’m sure that you can get a standing ovation by saying I’m wrong.”

That opening act put Trump in an awkward position. He would later tell the crowd to go get their shots. But he wasn’t sure if he should:

Lurking in the background was not just the GOP’s skepticism of the need for or efficacy of the vaccine, but also Trump’s past baseless linking of other vaccines to autism, including during the 2016 campaign. Reports indicated as the vaccines were rolled out that Trump wanted credit for them but also feared that actively pushing them would alienate some of the more extreme portions of his base. Trump, who had the coronavirus in the fall, did not get the vaccine on camera, unlike then-Vice President Mike Pence.

But there was Noem’s opening act for him here. Never trust Fauci! But get your shots! What?

But it was time for the main attraction. Shane Goldmacher and Elaina Plott cover that too:

“I am not starting a new party,” Mr. Trump declared, nixing rumors and making news in the first moments of the first speech of his post-presidency.

And why would he? Mr. Trump remains the most influential Republican politician in the nation. The three-day CPAC gathering in Orlando showed how fully the Republican Party has been remade in his image in the five years since he boycotted the conference in 2016 en route to capturing the party’s nomination.

In a meandering speech guided by a teleprompter and interrupted with cheering that at times read more obligatory than enthusiastic, Mr. Trump lashed out at President Biden and outlined his vision of a culture- and immigration-focused Republican Party while relitigating his specific grievances from 2020.

Mr. Trump named every Republican who voted for his impeachment. “Get rid of them all,” he said. And he predicted a Republican would win the White House in 2024. “Who, who, who will that be, I wonder?” he mused.

The speech came right after Mr. Trump won a CPAC 2024 presidential straw poll, finishing with 55 percent of the vote — more than double the percentage of his closest runner-up. But that victory was dampened by the fact that only 68 percent of the attendees at the conference said they wanted him to run again.

He has competition:

A second straw poll, without Mr. Trump, was carried by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who received 43 percent on his home turf, followed by Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota with 11 percent.

Those results showcased the challenge that senators face in edging ahead of governors in the 2024 pack of potential presidential candidates. Both Mr. DeSantis and Ms. Noem highlighted their efforts to keep the economy open during the coronavirus pandemic, which proved a more popular résumé point than the legislative fights that senators in Washington have been engaged in.

Yes, the opening acts were too strong, and Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman saw this:

After days of insisting they could paper over their intraparty divisions, Republican lawmakers were met with a grim reminder of the challenge ahead on Sunday when former President Donald J. Trump stood before a conservative conference and ominously listed the names of Republicans he is targeting for defeat.

As Democrats pursue a liberal agenda in Washington, the former president’s grievances over the 2020 election continue to animate much of his party, more than a month after he left office and nearly four months since he lost the election. Many G.O.P. leaders and activists are more focused on litigating false claims about voting fraud in last year’s campaign, assailing the technology companies that deplatformed Mr. Trump and punishing lawmakers who broke with him over his desperate bid to retain power.

In an address on Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, his first public appearance since he left the White House, Mr. Trump read a sort of hit list of every congressional Republican who voted to impeach him, all but vowing revenge.

The focus was narrow and the mood nasty:

With his refusal to concede defeat and his determination to isolate G.O.P. leaders who criticize him, the former president has effectively denied Republicans from engaging in the sort of reckoning that parties traditionally undertake after they lose power…

Mr. Biden does little to energize conservative activists. Indeed, Mr. Trump and other speakers at the event drew more applause for their criticism of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Mr. Biden’s chief public health adviser for the virus and a figure of enmity on the far right, than for their attacks on the president.

The attention surrounding Mr. Trump and his potential plans for the future are forestalling a focused attack on Mr. Biden and the Democratic-controlled Congress.

That makes Democrats smile, as does his lack of discipline:

After mostly sticking to his prepared text for the first hour of his 90-minute speech – and listing what he said were the accomplishments of his tenure – the former president grew animated and angry as he veered off the teleprompter to vent about his loss.

“The Supreme Court didn’t have the guts or the courage to do anything about it,” Mr. Trump said of a body that includes three of his appointees. He was met with chants of “You won, you won!”

Let him rant. Biden and most of the nation have moved on. He has not. No one there had:

From the start on Sunday, the crowd provided Mr. Trump with the adulation he craves, chanting, “We love you! We love you!” at one point. And he made clear that he believes that news organizations, and his supporters, still want the sugar high of his appearances.

After stepping up to the lectern, Mr. Trump, gone for just five weeks, asked the room, “Do you miss me yet?”

No one dared say no, and E. J. Dionne knows why:

The act was old. The ­self-involvement was as intense as ever. The lies about the 2020 election continued. The dreary attacks on his foes, the unhinged hyperbole, the calls to suppress votes and the unconstrained nativism were reruns of earlier productions.

But all of this was comfortably familiar:

Donald Trump, the Sequel, drew a predictably ecstatic response at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando on Sunday as he assailed President Biden and made clear in a torrent of invective that hatred of immigration will be as important to any attempted comeback as it was to his rise.

Back were the “coyotes,” “the vicious evil smugglers,” “the illegal aliens,” “mass amnesty,” “chain migration” and every other epithet and catchphrase that form his tapestry of nativism. Back also were the throwback forms of McCarthyism as he accused Biden of moving the country toward “radicalism, socialism and indeed it all leads to communism.”

This was like coming home for this crowd, or maybe not:

If the CPAC conclave was a Trump revival, complete with a golden Trump statue, there was some quiet dissent just beneath the surface. When the results of the CPAC straw poll for 2024 came in, Trump received just 55 percent of the ballots. Imagine Tom Brady receiving 55 percent for MVP from Tampa Bay fans.

When protected by the secret ballot, the hard core was going a little soft. They cried “we love you,” but the eyes of nearly half of them were straying. Perhaps more on the right want to move on than will ever say so publicly.

But more on the right were stuck in the past:

The resumption of the Trump Show reminded the GOP that it has the worst of all worlds: a cult of Trump without any of the benefits that might have come from a serious inquiry into why the old conservatism had been unable to stop him. Party leaders in their hearts know that they can’t win with Trump and Trumpism – and they can’t live without him and his followers.

They know his voters dominate party primaries and they need them to turn out to win House and Senate seats. But the more Trump dominates the conversation, the more he will continue to push middle-class suburban voters who embraced Biden last year – especially women – away from the GOP.

Which, sadly, is why one theme Trump harped on will be picked up by the mainstream of his party: his attacks on “ballots indiscriminately pouring in,” his assault on mail-in voting and his call for voter ID.

That’s all that’s left now:

What Trump is saying is what many in his party believe, judging by their voter suppression efforts all over the country. The party won’t rethink, it’s not moving forward, and it can’t fully rid itself of Trumpism. So it can’t build a new majority. It can win only by stopping voters who reject them, as they rejected Trump, from casting ballots.

“Do you miss me yet?” Trump asked at the beginning of his address. Most Americans don’t, and his display at CPAC will do nothing to unleash a national wave of nostalgia. But his party will be stuck with him for a long time.

But that’s their problem. Everyone else can move on. Really, they can. The nation has better things to do.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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