In a scene reminiscent of a toddler disinviting one of his friends from a birthday party, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference Matt Schlapp took to Twitter to announce that Sen. Mitt Romney, R‑Utah, was “formally NOT invited” to the February conference.
Schlapp disinvited Romney because the senator voted to hear from more witnesses during a preliminary hearing of the Senate impeachment trial — something Schlapp frowned upon. But calling additional witnesses would have been a way to ensure that the truth came out during the trial, and it could have helped reveal Democrats’ political motivations for impeachment.
The disinvitation is a divisive move for conservatives. It’s a bad look for Schlapp and conservatives alike.
Romney spoke at CPAC in 2013 after his 2012 presidential run. Since 2017, however, Trump has dominated the event, speaking three years successively. He is expected to speak again this year.
The Democrats have been looking for their chance to impeach Trump since Hillary Clinton lost the election in 2016, and a trial without the right witnesses gave them more ammunition. Paul Thornton of the Los Angeles Times wrote that “the Democrats… know they cannot defeat Trump with their current set of primary candidates, so they must go with their only hope: a meaningless impeachment process.”
Trump isn’t a squeaky-clean political candidate, but he has taken the Democrats’ heat well. Neither his tax returns nor his involvement in Ukraine have been suitable points of attack for the Democrats. The best the Mueller report could do was “not exonerate” the president.
Republicans should want the November narrative to focus on what has gone right during the current presidency. Publicly throwing Romney under the bus just reinforces the Democratic picture of a Republican party full of radical Trump supporters thinking about which rebel flag to put on their truck, instead of trusting the justice system to exonerate the president.
Romney is no friend of Trump, but he is a conservative, and his track record backs this up.
During a Congressional Series event hosted by the Sutherland Institute in August, Romney said “the perspective of conservatives is based on keeping America strong — providing for a bright and prosperous future for all of our people — not just now, but long term.”
Utah GOP Chairman Derek Brown told Politico in October 2019 that “when it comes to his support of the state party, there’s no doubt that he is a team player.”
Though Romney had an unpopular opinion among Republicans regarding impeachment, he remains loyal to conservatives and the GOP — which would be hard for Trump to say, as he changed his party many times throughout his life before finally landing in the Republican pack prior to his election.
The distastefully extreme form of the Republican party has been on full display, and the Democrats now have an angle to write off their colossal failure as a valiant effort that was denied by Senate Republicans.
This is not good for Trump’s presence in the media, which is what the impeachment has been all about in the first place: hurting Trump’s public perception so that former Vice President Joe Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders, I‑Vermont, will have a better chance in November.
CPAC has essentially turned into a Republican war rally for Trump in recent years. Matthew Yglesias of Vox said the conference has devolved to a “gathering of conservative movement activists and loyalists that’s also a hub for people who are much more entertainers and entrepreneurs than they are ideologues or policy wonks.” Molly Jong-Fast of the Bulwark described the event as “a magical place where college dropouts lecture college students, where millionaires beg for prayers for their success, where soda-bans are likened to the Red Purges.”
Banning the obviously-conservative Romney from what is rapidly becoming a badly-disguised Trump rally does not help the state of CPAC or the state of the Republican party.
Schlapp’s decision focuses on division where it should focus on ideology. It also turns the multitudes of college students in attendance into Trump’s personal army rather than free-thinking Americans.
With the deep political divide between Democrats and Republicans today, Republicans simply do not need division within their own party.
Though some may say that Romney started the division by voting to hear from more witnesses, throwing him out into the cold and then closing ranks is much worse.
Now, every major news outlet is running a story about the cleft in the Republican party, and Romney is stuck in no man’s land.
Quin Calhour is a freshman studying rhetoric and public address.