The lesson should be clear as day at this point: You don’t beat Donald Trump by feeding his ego or lining the pockets of crooks associated with the former president.
Unfortunately for Trump’s Republican rivals, that ship has sailed.
That seemed evident in news reports and video from the Turning Point Action Conference, a convention hosted this weekend by a sister organization of the far-right Turning Point USA. Trump appeared at #ACTCON alongside a number of Trump-loving politicians and media figures who sang his praises — including fired Fox News host Tucker Carlson, conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell and adviser right-wing politician Steve Bannon. The former president won acclaim for a speech in which he criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and portrayed himself as a martyr, while complaining about the various criminal charges he faces.
Organizers also released a poll from the event showing that 86% of attendees had Trump as their first choice for president.
To put it in technical terms, the convention was a pro-Trump love fest.
This is not surprising. Turning Point USA was started by right-wing speaking leader Charlie Kirk in 2012, and the organization bills itself as an ultraconservative youth group. However, since its inception, it has become a more explicitly pro-Trump organization.
This was all very well for the Republicans when Trump was in office and controlled the White House. Apparently every Republican with electoral hopes kissed Kirk’s ring and appeared at a Turning Point event. But I often wonder whether Trump’s adversaries within the Republican Party now regret helping to empower an organization that effectively acts as Trump’s personal public relations agency. Especially people like DeSantis, who has appeared at several Turning Point events.
I often wonder if Trump’s opponents within the Republican Party now regret helping to empower an organization that effectively acts as Trump’s personal public relations agency.
DeSantis and several other contenders for the GOP presidential nomination — including Tim Scott and Chris Christie — opted not to attend this time around. One could argue that this was a smart policy, since they probably knew they would be received coldly at best. But the reality for Republican candidates is that, thanks to years of preparation, many conservative voters hold Turning Point and its extremist associates in high esteem. And politicians who were not present were mocked online by TPUSA leaders.
One candidate who received praise from some attendees and TPUSA leaders was Trump-loving businessman Vivek Ramaswamy. On the other hand, another presidential candidate who showed up — Trump critic Asa Hutchinson — was booed and drowned by chants for Trump as he tried to speak, emphasizing the lose-lose scenario that Republicans have created for themselves. Embrace Trumpism and be seen as a non-threat. Flee Trumpism and allow yourself to be crushed – or mercilessly dragged – by its supporters.
For Republicans yearning for a post-Trump party, the conference was a reminder that GOPers have been short-sighted in portraying Trump as a global superhero over the past decade and foolish to align yourself with organizations that promote this mythology. . Normal people know that’s a lie. But today’s Republicans largely want their elected officials to maintain the facade, and that’s what right-wing organizations like Turning Point are doing. And so far, no Republican running for president has been able to counter that narrative with something more appealing to GOP voters.
It seems unlikely that they will.