For years, the Conservative Political Action Conference has drawn conservative administration members, top think-tankers and lobbyists, a stream of presidential candidates, and the seditionist Donald Trump. In early times, it was a hub for somewhat nerdy corporate conservatism, but in recent years, under the guidance of American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, the stage and the crowds moved farther and farther right, embracing conspiracy theorists, anti-democratic extremism, and an increasingly fascist agenda.
But CPAC is now in an existential crisis, reports The Washington Post. And naturally, it's Schlapp's fault.
In mid-November, powerful conservative figure Morton Blackwell became the latest American Conservative Union board member to resign in the wake of a sexual misconduct lawsuit filed against Schlapp by a campaign staffer for then-Senate candidate Herschel Walker. So far, the ACU has forked over over $1 million dollars in legal fees on Schlapp's behalf, and in a 13-page letter of resignation submitted last May, former Board Treasurer Bob Beauprez blasted Schlapp for mismanagement and apparent self-dealing and warned that he could no longer vouch for the organization's financial statements.
Over half of CPAC's staffers have left the organization since 2021, and ticket sales have been slumping as the conference morphed into a celebration of an increasingly extreme pro-Trump and seditionist right. Blackwell's departure, however, may signal the beginning of the end.
“Morton Blackwell resigning is a signal to the entire conservative movement that the game is over,” said Grover Norquist, the well-known anti-tax activist who served on the CPAC board for more than 15 years. “CPAC stopped being a useful part of the movement long ago and now it’s veering toward dysfunctional.”
A major question is whether the ACU should be funding Schlapp's legal defense at all, given that Schlapp's misconduct could not easily be construed as part of his official role as ACU or CPAC leader. Schlapp has been accused of purging board members and staffers who raise questions about his decisions or leadership, and Beauprez called out Schlapp's use of ACU money for his defense as one of the reasons he no longer had confidence in the organization's finances and warned that any settlement "upwards of a couple of million dollars," would, coupled with legal expenses, "break the organization."
Norquist isn't alone in suggesting that "the game is over" for the ACU and Schlapp. But while Norquist appears to believe the ACU is unsalvageable, other conservatives appear to believe something can be salvaged—if Schlapp is shown the door.
“There’s enough out there in the public eye to warrant not only transparency but also consequences,” said Al Cardenas, who served as chairman immediately before Schlapp and previously led the Florida Republican Party. “It’s time for damage control if ACU is going to continue to be a viable entity. For the benefit of the ACU and its future, there’s no other solution than to elect new leadership.”
The continued existence of CPAC as conservative gathering point may depend on how many millions Schlapp is able to bleed from the organization to fund his multiple legal woes, but there don't appear to be many high-profile conservatives eager to keep the group afloat. That may be due to Schlapp's tight hold on the organization, one that has alienated longtime conservative leaders in favor of Trump-like blustering cruelty.
It might also be because whenever CPAC burns down, as now seems inevitable, there is no dearth of funding for whatever might replace it. The Federalist Society's Leonard Leo is swimming in conservative capital and could purchase the name and contracts outright; any number of former CPAC board members might jump to provide a Schlappless alternative group; numerous Trump-adjacent grifters would likely announce their own ventures, all vowing to become the conference's rightful heir. CPAC may be the biggest and most "important" of conservative conferences, but it's replaceable. There are no end of far-right groups wanting to hear Stephen Miller's anti-immigrant rhetoric or have conservative "legal minds" explain why this or that portion of the Constitution ought to be considered invalid.
Still, though: The death of CPAC would be an immensely satisfying event to witness. And not just for liberals, apparently.
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Republicans are challenging labor leaders to fights and allegedly physically assaulting one another. Donald Trump says he will abolish reproductive rights entirely and is openly calling for the extermination of his detractors, referring to them as “vermin” on Veterans Day. The Republican Party has emerged from its corruption cocoon as a full-blown fascist movement.