NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND — “America is founded on a simple idea, and that idea… [dramatic pause] is freedom.” So declared Vice President Mike Pence in a booming staccato during his Friday morning CPAC address. “Freedom works,” Pence assured the room of conservative conference-goers. “We have the courage to stand for freedom.”
Pence played the hits: low unemployment, strong economy, tax cuts and an extended riff about infanticide. A customary “build-the-wall” chant broke out, but fizzled nearly as soon as it began. That’s CPAC’s dirty little secret: The wall is not the fetish object it once was. Even though wall-funding was the catalyst of both the longest government shutdown in U.S. history and President Trump’s subsequent National Emergency declaration, most speakers would rather spend time roasting freshman Rep. Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), her Green New Deal or zero in on the bogeyman-du-jour: socialism.
To be sure, you can play with red cardboard bricks downstairs in the exhibition hall and “build” a wall of your own that creeps up a billowing American flag emblazoned with the go-to Reagan quote — “A nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation.” But wander the halls of the Gaylord National Resort this week and any talk of the Wall pales in comparison to repetition of that four-syllable “S” word. On Thursday, Dr. Sebastian Gorka attacked Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist, in a riff that quickly went viral. “They want to take your pickup truck,” Gorka said. “They want to rebuild your home. They want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved.”
Pence, like many of his Republican colleagues this week, formed his thesis around Venezuela and its socialist leader, Nicolás Maduro. He told the room that “freedom, not socialism, ended slavery.”
He also received a standing ovation when doubling down on Trump’s promise to stand-up a sixth branch of the military: the Space Force.
"SPACE FORCE" gets a standing ovation from CPAC when Mike Pence mentions it pic.twitter.com/xonsdwpli5
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 1, 2019
He condemned Democratic support of recent reproductive rights initiatives and attacked late-term abortion — specifically Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s comments on the subject.
“Life is winning in America once again,” Pence announced.
Before the vice president took the stage, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) appeared alongside the National Review‘s Rich Lowry in a conversation billed as “Nationhood and the Border Crisis.” Cruz leaned forward in his chair for the duration, hands on his thighs, shoulders tense. “Democrats have gone bat-crap crazy,” Cruz said. “If you look at the medical dictionary, it’s under B. It is, in fact, a psychosis.”
With minor exceptions, Cruz barely discussed the southern border. He mocked New York socialists for “chasing out Amazon.” The Princeton grad bemoaned coastal elites and argued that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election because of liberal condescension, smugness and superiority. He ripped through recent Trump White House accomplishments like gutting the Affordable Care Act, confirming conservative judges and pulling out of the Iran deal. He warned of increased Democratic money and energy going into the next presidential election and scoffed at the grassroots organization that metastasized around his Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke.
“We’re going to see a crazy assault from the left, more unhinged than anything we’ve ever seen,” Cruz prophesied. “If we turn common-sense conservatives out, we can win.”
O’Rourke is poised to re-enter the national conversation with an imminent announcement about his 2020 plans. President Trump is scheduled to speak at CPAC Saturday morning.