Thousands of political activists gathered for the opening of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Thursday morning, as its organizer said its theme of ‘awake not woke’ captured the mood of people angry at being told what to do.
Once again Donald Trump is the headline speaker as he seeks to retain his grip on the Republican Party ahead of run in 2024.
His son Don Jr will close the event on Sunday afternoon, while likely 2024 contenders have other coveted slots such Gov Ron DeSantis – whose rivalry with Trump provides a key subplot – and Gov Kristi L. Noem of South Dakota.
But Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union which organizes the event said it was all about the rebellion under way across the nation.
The theme of ‘awake not woke’ captured the mood of the moment, he told DailyMail.com.
‘A lot of people around the globe have seen government just come in and dictate almost every aspect of their life – when a church can open, when a church can close or school can open, when a parent can even learn what’s going on in school or arrested for asking questions about what’s going on in their school,’ he said.
‘In America, we’ve woken up to this idea that we’ve been teaching our kids to hate our country. And it really p***es us off.’
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union which organizes the event, said Americans were fed up with being told what to do
Some 18,000 activists are expected in Orlando, Florida, for the event which has the theme of ‘awake not woke’ as Republicans look to take back Congress in the midterms
Former President Trump will headline the event with a speech on Saturday evening
Trump remains the main attraction for many of the activists in Orlando, even as some Republicans warn the event has lost its diversity of views and space for debate
Sessions have populist titles from ‘Fire Fauci’ – which includes former Trump official Sebastian Gorka, and Rep. Matt Gaetz – to ‘Moron in Chief.’
Schlapp laid out the cultural battle lines under discussion, as he said it was not just Republicans that were angry.
‘It’s cops and teachers and coaches. They don’t want to be told that they have to teach young kids to believe that they’re not the right gender. They don’t want kids getting gender reassignment drugs without telling their parents,’ he said.
‘I mean, we’re in a very insane and chaotic time, and that’s resulting in a woke Democratic Party just getting pummeled everywhere you look from San Francisco to Seattle to Minneapolis.’
The line-up reflects the themes, with outspoken firebrands such as Charlie Kirk, a Trump ally and the founder of Turning Point USA, and Charlie O’Keefe, who runs Project Libertas, a controversial media organizations that targets liberals.
Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert – both elected in 2020 when Trump was on his way out – will be making appearances at CPAC, as they’ve become prominent and controversial voices within the House GOP caucus.
Former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (left) and Dr. Mehmet Oz (right) will both be appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, where it was moved to get away from strict COVID-19 protocols
So far, former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is the only prominent Democrat slated to appear at CPAC, a gathering for those on the political right. While Gabbard endorsed President Joe Biden, she’s become more critical and often appears on Fox News Channel
But that punchy flavor has put off some Republicans.
‘This year’s lineup shows a party attempting to marry pre-Trump conservatism with Trumpian style,’ wrote conservative columnist in The Washington Post.
‘And what’s missing? Genuine discussion and debate of the issues.’
Former Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will not be attending this year, missing out on a platform that is usually a must-attend for likely presidential contenders.
Nor is Glenn Youngkin, whose blueprint for victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race last year is in much demand across the Republican Party. He has quietly steered away from gatherings of hardcore conservatives.
But the event has attracted a Democrat in the form of Tulsi Gabbard, who ran for her party’s 2020 nomination.
She will appear at the Friday night ‘Ronald Reagan Dinner,’ where the keynote speaker is former Fox News star conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck.
Gabbard is highly controversial in Democratic circles, where she is viewed with suspicion for her parroting of Vladimir Putin’s propaganda and defense of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.
The gathering used to be held in Virginia within a stone’s throw of Washington DC.
But since last year it has been in Florida, making use of the state’s relaxed attitude to COVID-19 and masking.
Each year it brings together more than 18,000 people ‘who fight for conservatism in America and abroad,’ according to its website.
Others who have solo slots include Sens Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
And former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is another possible 2024 runner, will speak on Friday.
CPAC organizers also have Jackie Siegel, who was featured in the documentary ‘The Queen of Versailles’ for trying to build a replica of the French chateau in Florida, and ‘Papa John,’ former pizza CEO John Schnatter, who was removed from his post after using the n-word in a sensitivity training, making appearances.
Another controversial guest is former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who is running for the state’s open Senate seat.
Greitens resigned the governorship in 2018 over claims he sexually and physically assaulted his hairdresser – and used nude photographs taken of her to keep her quiet.