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Braving the boos: A conservative speaks truth to Trumpers

Brian Frayer, of Waldorf, Md., holds a

Brian Frayer, of Waldorf, Md., holds a "Make America Great Again" hat over his heart during the national anthem during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), at National Harbor, Md., Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Put your hands together for Mona Charen, who was mad as hell and wasn’t gonna take it anymore.

Charen, whose right-wing credentials date back to her work in the Reagan administration, did something on Saturday that nobody else at the Conservative Political Action Conference was brave enough to even try. She went on stage and admirably attacked the annual confab for turning itself into a Trump-abetting white-nationalist cesspool.

In the end she had to be escorted from the premises by security guards, but she’d said what needed to be said. As she later wrote, “There is nothing more freeing than the truth. And it must be done, again and again, by those of us who refuse to be absorbed into this brainless, sinister, clownish thing called Trumpism, by those of us who refuse to overlook the fools, frauds, and fascists attempting to glide along in his slipstream into respectability.”

Yup, she used the word “fascists.” That’s typically a loaded term invoked for hyperbolic effect, but in this case, it was accurate. Charen, like other principled conservatives who lament that their movement has been hijacked by racists and conspiracy-theory nutjobs, was livid that CPAC hosted Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a leader of the French neo-fascist National Front (and heir to grandfather Jean-Marie’s neo-fascism); that it hosted ex-Trump aide Sebastian Gorka, who has longstanding ties to Hungarian fascists; and that, fascist factor aside, not a single speaker had denounced sexual harassment by Republican men.

Marion Marechal-Le Pen
Marion Marechal-Le Pen, 28, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), at National Harbor, Md., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

A Saturday panel of four conservative women featured a discussion of liberal feminism and how awful it supposedly is. That’s when Charen, one of the panelist, seized her opportunity:

“I’m going to twist this around a bit …. I’m disappointed in people on our side for being hypocrites about about sexual harassers and abusers of women who are in our party, who are sitting in the White House, who brag about their extra-marital affairs, who brag about mistreating women. And because he happens to have an ‘R’ after his name, we look the other way – we don’t complain. This is a party that was ready to endorse Roy Moore for the Senate in the state of Alabama even though he was a credibly accused child molester. You cannot claim that you stand for women and put up with that.”

Whoa, sister! No way you can talk truth to a crowd of  hypocritical Trumpers and expect to get away with it. And she didn’t. She was booed. Fake-news hecklers yelled that her critique was “Not true! Not true!” Others yelled that she was attacking the good guys (Trump and anyone allied with Trump) and excusing the bad guys (everyone not allied with Trump). That’s when she decided to double down:

“Speaking of bad guys, there was quite an interesting person who was on this stage the other day. Her name is Marion Le Pen. Now, why was she here? Why was she here? She’s a young, no-longer-in-office politician from France. I think the only reason she was here is because she’s named Le Pen. And the Le Pen name is a disgrace. Her grandfather is a racist and a Nazi. She claims that she stands for him. And the fact that CPAC invited her is a disgrace.”

Charen isn’t the only prominent conservative who feels this way, of course. Commentator Matt Lewis wrote the other day that CPAC “apparently searched the four corners of the globe to assemble a ‘legion of doom’-style roster, a collection of some of the worst ‘conservative’ supervillains who generally share a populist, ethno-nationalist brand of politics (and some, I assume, are good people). Of course, it’s not just Le Pen. The lineup is a veritable murderer’s row of nationalists.”

Richard Brookheiser, the longtime conservative author, is amazed that so many on the right have surrendered to Trump, how they “salute the bone-spurred draft-dodger whose Khe Sanh was not catching the clap.”

But Lewis and other sane voices were not in the CPAC lineup. Charen was the token voice, and, as her reward for daring to dissent, the taunters yelled: “You’re a disgrace!”

That was fine with her. Somebody had to say something about the speedy Trumpification of the movement, about the rampant epidemic of conspiracy-laced paranoia, the lockstep tribalism and the assault on empirical facts. As Charen later remarked, “I spoke to a hostile audience for the sake of every person who has watched this spectacle of mendacity in disbelief and misery for the past two years.”

Conservatives who stand with Charen feel powerless to stop the spectacle. Two years ago, candidate Trump skipped the CPAC event, fearing a hostile audience; last Friday, he triumphantly blathered on stage for more than an hour. As Max Boot — an aggrieved conservative like Charen, a foreign policy adviser to three Republican campaigns — wrote yesterday, “Principled conservatism continues to exist, primarily at small journals of opinion, but it’s increasingly disconnected from the stuff that thrills the masses …. The dumber and more offensive, the better.”

There’s only one way the Charens and Boots can wrest the conservative movement away from the primal demagogues. They have to hope that voters infused with common sense will surge to the polls and sweep the Republicans from power, starting with the midterm elections. Short of that, nothing will snuff the burgeoning threat to democracy itself.

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