Interviewing EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Fox News contributor Lawrence Jones mused, “This is an anti-socialism conference, but there has to be an alternative, administrator, to the people that want socialism.” At this year’s CPAC, it seemed the only prescription put forward was voting for four more years of President Donald Trump in the White House.
Last year, CPAC was explicitly committed to formulating effective ways to combat what American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp dubbed “creeping socialism.” This year’s conference was similarly committed to sounding the alarm against a socialist resurgence supposedly inching closer to the heart of power in Washington, exemplified in Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders’ victories in early Democratic primary states. Attendee badges bore the tagline “America vs. Socialism,” and numerous main stage panels were devoted to the topic.
Sanders has called himself a democratic socialist for years while advocating for increases to the federal minimum wage, the expansion of social welfare programs, and the nationalization of healthcare. The organization Democratic Socialists of America describes its agenda as one that believes “both the economy and society should be run democratically.” The United States already has several popular socialist programs, including Social Security and Medicare, and public attitudes about socialism have been shifting.
“Socialism, we believe, gets to the very core of violating the dignity of the individual human being that has God-given rights,” Schlapp said Thursday.
On CPAC’s main stage this year, every Democrat was a socialist, and socialism was a threat to the very essence of America. To save it, conservatives need to ensure that Trump is reelected president.
Vice President Mike Pence told CPAC attendees that “there are no moderates in this Democratic field” of presidential candidates that every Democratic candidate running—despite any stated policies—embraces Sanders’ “socialist agenda.” It was important, Pence said, for conservatives to renew Trump’s 2019 State of the Union declaration: “America will never be a socialist country.” Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee abided Pence’s demand, declaring on a panel Thursday that conservatives were “going to help stamp out socialism forever.”
During a conversation with Schlapp Friday, Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that socialism was a far bigger threat to the American economy than even the coronavirus, which had just sent the stock market into its worst week since 2008.
“The virus is not going to sink the American economy. What is or could sink the American economy is the socialism coming from our friends on the other side of the aisle,” Kudlow said.
Larry Kudlow tells CPAC that socialism is a far bigger threat to the American economy than the coronavirus is. pic.twitter.com/3C2HNsVM7S
— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) February 28, 2020
Kudlow was joined in his warning by other Trump administration officials, including Department of Veterans Affairs Sec. Robert Wilkie, who warned that socialism would leave veterans neglected.
“Socialism in America will kill the promise that Abraham Lincoln made … that we would take care for those who have bore the battle and for the widows and the orphans. If socialism ever comes to America, that sacred promise will be destroyed, and our warriors will go to the back of the lines,” Wilkie told CPAC, echoing growing civil war rhetoric on the right.
Charlie Kirk, founder and president of the youth conservative organization Turning Point USA, warned conservatives that communism was spreading across college campuses across the United States and that via Sanders, socialism has a real chance to succeed in America.
“I want every conservative activist to get your laughs out of the way and your mockery out of the way and get deathly serious,” Kirk said. “Because we should not do what the left did in 2016 and dismiss an outsider populist candidate.”
Former White House Deputy Assistant Sebastian Gorka agreed with Kirk. “America needs to wake up. America needs to understand the reality of the threat that this November could come to fruition,” he said in his speech Saturday. He went on to attack Sanders’ advocacy for implementing universal healthcare in America.
“Didn’t Bernie have a heart attack? Did he go to Venezuela to get treatment? Did he go to Cuba or Canada? Did he go to Canada? Of course he didn’t! He got treated here. Why? Because he wanted to live, that’s why,” Gorka said.
Dale Bellis, President Emeritus of Liberty HealthShare, vowed to do what he could to never allow America to experience the “ravages of socialism in healthcare.” People who advocate Medicare for All plans don’t actively seek to replicate the Soviet Union, he said, but “however you slice it, the end result is still the same.”
Bellis said that socialism is “immoral” and “strips human dignity and the value of the individual,” that it “assaults the very foundation of our individual freedom as creators created by God,” and that it is “antithetical” to fundamental human rights.
Right-wing news commentator Mark Levin criticized the increasingly popular democratic socialism movement, rhetorically asking, “how do you have democratic socialism when socialists hate democracy? You get one vote, they get in power, then they destroy everything.”
Levin stressed the need for conservatives to “crush” Sanders and “his little Marxist army” in 2020. Echoing Pence’s statements, Levin said that of the Democratic field of candidates, there was “not a moderate among them.”
Mark Levin: “Who cares about the top 1%? Who cares about the top 10%? How is that gonna affect our lives?” #CPAC2020
— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) February 29, 2020
Right-wing conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck opened the stage Saturday by claiming that Sanders and his supporters were leading a revolution that “will result in death and misery,” as Media Matters documented.
“Another Holodomor. Or another Holocaust. Or whatever we call the next great socialist atrocity,” Beck said. He later added, “They’re armed with pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails, and guns. They are here for revolution.”
Joshua Philipp of the reportedly Falun Gong-tied outlet Epoch Times was hosted on stage, where he warned that socialism was designed to destroy peoples’ religion, morals, and culture while on the path to implementing communism.
“It is about attacking and destroying your values, your culture, your ideas, and the foundations of your society,” Philipp said.
Rick Harrison of “Pawn Stars” fame took a brief round of questions from the audience and put the threat of socialism simplistically.
“It’s not a bad thing having a lot of money,” Harrison said. “All your leftist friends would love to have a lot of money; they just don’t want anyone else to have it.”
But Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James, who is running to unseat Democratic Sen. Gary Peters in Michigan, contrasted many speakers at CPAC by cautioning that it would not simply be enough for Republicans to run on the message “socialism sucks.” The 2020 election, James said, is not about “beating Bernie,” and he wanted to be “crystal clear” that the audience should not underestimate the appeal of socialism “for those whom the status quo has failed.”
“For us to defeat socialism, for us to save a generation, we can’t just say ‘socialism sucks’ and assume that people will follow us. Stuck Americans don’t want socialism, they just want the pain to stop.” James said. “It’s up to us to offer a remedy that works.”
Some conversations about socialism were also less serious. Conservative pundit Jesse Kelly took to the stage for a skit styled after ”The Daily Show” called “Socialist News Network,” with a CNN-inspired logo, that bore little resemblance to socialist thought in the United States. Kelly parodied praise of figures like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Vice President Joe Biden, both of whom socialists broadly hold critical views of. In the CPAC exhibition hall, a booth played a socialism versus capitalism rap battle video.