At the last few Conservative Political Action Conferences, attendees met with a giant question hanging above the Gaylord Hotel like a cloud. In 2015, who would the Republicans nominate for president? (Not who most attendees expected.) In 2016, would conservatives really support President Trump? (It turned out that most did.) In 2017, what would the Trump presidency bring? (Policy-wise, pretty good things for conservatives, at least in the first year.)
This year’s gathering felt like a natural stage for a letdown. We’ve all had a year to get used to the drama and palace intrigue of the Trump administration. Activists for the party in power usually struggle to overcome complacency; activists for the party out of power usually are galvanized in fear and anger over the opposition’s actions. Democrats had a terrific Election Day in 2017 and have enjoyed some surprise victories in under-the-radar special state-legislative elections. The generic-ballot numbers have tightened, but for much of the past year suggested a “blue wave” on Election Day 2018.
But this is the first time CPAC has been held in the recent aftermath of a horrific mass shooting and an impassioned, angry debate about gun control, and this seems to have dispelled any sense of complacency in the attendees. Between the usual one-sided coverage and last night’s CNN “town hall” that featured the crowd cheering a ban on all privately-held semiautomatic weapons, and one student contending that looking at Senator Marco Rubio was akin to looking at the school shooter, the stakes are clear. A considerable portion of the political opposition loathes gun owners with a raging passion and wants to effectively erase the Second Amendment without all the trouble of formally amending the Constitution.
I appeared on my friend Cam Edwards’s show, and Breitbart.com Ken Klukowski predicted that if Democrats won the Senate, they will block any Trump nominees to the Supreme Court — no matter when the vacancy occurs. That feels like a plausible scenario, with Democrats convinced that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell “stole” the Supreme Court seat by not holding hearings or a vote on Obama nominee Merrick Garland. The dispute over who should replace Antonin Scalia left eight justices on the court from February 2016 to April 2017. If Chuck Schumer becomes the Senate’s majority leader in January, the next vacancy could last even longer.
Constitutional rights, future Supreme Court nominations, control of the House and Senate, the Trump agenda — consequences like this will shake one out of lethargy. The stakes in 2018 are super-high. If that doesn’t get the conservative grassroots motivated, what will?