Jack of Hearts: CPAC, today’s John Birch Society


“Oh come on US conservatives, stop embarrassing yourselves. Have some dignity and national pride.”
– Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley

At CPAC, Steve Bannon Hosted the Only Party That Mattered



CPAC has long been as much a social event as an opportunity to set the tone and agenda of the conservative movement. But in recent years, as Donald J. Trump has remade the Republican Party, CPAC’s attendance and cultural capital has declined, a trend heightened by allegations of sexual assault made in a lawsuit against the organization’s president, Matt Schlapp. (Mr. Schlapp has denied the allegations.)

In the days leading up to the convention, one longtime conservative activist told The New York Times in a text message that he would rather poke out his own eyes than attend, arguing that the event had turned into a veritable Trump rally at which no other views were permitted.

Those who did show up were quick to note that the CPAC party scene was also on life support.

“It’s dead,” said Michael R. Bartels, 28, the advisory chairman of the New York Young Republican Club. Mr. Bartels said that the conference was caught between an older generation of conservatives in the mold of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and a younger, Trumpier wave.


CPAC [2024] Panel Singles Out Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris … for Some Reason

The conservative conference dedicated an entire “cat fight” panel to attacking the two most prominent Black women in Democratic politics


FEBRUARY 22, 2024

“The difference is Richard Nixon had respect for norms and the United States of America. These guys don’t, Joe Biden doesn’t. Joe Biden is the capo of a criminal organization,” Schlichter said.

Ex-employee sues CPAC alleging racial bias, defamation by Schlapp, others

A former employee of the Conservative Political Action Conference is suing the group, alleging racial discrimination and defamation by her former bosses, including the influential organization’s leader, Matt Schlapp.Maegan Vazquez
Beth Reinhard
September 1, 2023
Regina Bratton, who worked as a communications and marketing supervisor in 2021 and 2022, said in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Virginia on Friday that she was the only African American employee out of about 30 employees, interns and volunteers across CPAC. She claims she faced hostility up and down the chain of command.
CPAC leadership “conspired to and embarked upon a systematic, concerted effort to create a hostile work environment,” the suit alleges. The suit seeks $55 million in damages.

The lawsuit also names as defendants CPAC’s parent organization, the American Conservative Union, and its foundation arm. Schlapp, a prominent ally of former president Donald Trump; Schlapp’s wife and CPAC senior fellow Mercedes Schlapp; and general counsel David Safavian are also listed as defendants.

“The culture at CPAC was terrible, as Matt Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, ran the organization as if they were the King and Queen — like a dictatorship which ignored rules, laws, and basic decency when dealing with employees,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit threatens to compound CPAC’s mounting legal expenses. Earlier this year, Republican operative Carlton Huffman sued Schlapp, accusing him of sexual battery and defamation in a suit seeking $9.4 million in damages. Schlapp has staunchly denied any wrongdoing.
Several veteran board members have quit in recent months while raising concerns about Schlapp’s financial oversight and heavy staff turnover.

Last week, the ACU board’s vice chairman, Charlie Gerow, resigned and urged fellow board members to launch an independent investigation into any additional allegations of sexual misconduct besides those in the lawsuit filed by Huffman earlier this year. Some board members and staffers have been told about other incidents involving Schlapp, 55, and two younger men, The Washington Post has reported.
In the latest lawsuit, Bratton alleges a subordinate was repeatedly hostile and defiant toward her and told her that he didn’t like “working with or for women.”Bratton also said that as she tried to hire a diverse group of freelancers, the staffer complained that CPAC was “not an affirmative action employer.”

Matt Schlapp Held an Exorcism at CPAC Offices After Junior Employees Resigned

Matt Schlapp wanted to rid the CPAC offices of evil spirits, so he got a Catholic priest to sprinkle holy water on the office furniture and employees, multiple sources said.



The Path From The Tea Party Through Jan. 6 To Today

by David Kurtz


May 25, 2023

The sentencing today of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes to 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy for the Jan. 6 attack prompted me to dig into the TPM archives. We’ve been covering Rhodes and the Oath Keepers for a long time. But I couldn’t remember exactly how long. On closer look, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was from virtually the beginning of his emergence on the national stage. But rummaging through our past coverage also helped me to re-familiarize myself with the context in which Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers.

Rhodes incorporated the Oath Keepers in 2009 (gee, who became president that year?), and you can’t divorce its creation from the then-emerging Tea Party movement.

The first mention of the Oath Keepers at TPM came in January 2010 in a story by Zachary Roth headlined: “Former Marine With Ties To Right-Wing Movements Charged With Child Rape, Possessing Grenade Launcher.” A lot going on there, no? Here’s an excerpt:

It’s not clear what Dyer might want with a grenade launcher. But he has declared himself a proud member of Oath Keepers, an organization that aims to enlist ex-military and law enforcement personnel, and has stoked fears that the federal government may try to seize Americans’ guns and round people up into concentration camps.

In this video, Dyer appears at a Tea Party event to promote the Oath Keepers and to rail against what the group — perhaps uniquely — sees as the federal government’s overzealous response to Hurricane Katrina.

A month later, in February 2010, Stewart Rhodes made his first appearance at TPM in a story by Eric Kleefeld about a Tea Party candidate for Texas governor in the GOP primary against incumbent Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison:

Debra Medina, the Tea Party activist and candidate in the Texas Republican gubernatorial primary who has attracted attention for her favorable comments about 9/11 Truthers and Birthers, is also involved with another extreme ideological movement: The Oath Keepers.

Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Daily News points out that Medina will appear this Sunday at an event in San Antonio, called “Taking Back Texas.” The other two top-billed speakers are Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers movement, and Oather activist Richard Mack, a former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona.

You can see in each of those initial stories the adjacency, to put it charitably, of the Oath Keepers and the Tea Party, with a little birtherism and 9/11 trutherism thrown in for good measure. I’m not suggesting TPM was alone at the time in covering the flourishing of right-wing extremism, but to this day I don’t think it’s as widely understood as it should be that the cauldron of racial grievance, white resentment, transgressive extra-constitutionalism, and conspiracizing in 2009-10 was a precursor to the Trump presidency and ultimately to Jan. 6.

Our first closer look at Rhodes himself came a few days later in a story by Jillian Rayfield – “Too Extreme For O’Reilly? The Man Behind The Right-Wing Group ‘Oath Keepers’” – that pivoted off an appearance by Rhodes on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor.* Keep in mind here that less than a year after founding the Oath Keepers, Rhodes is being elevated into a primetime appearance on Fox News’ most popular show:

The Oath Keepers have some connections to the Tea Party movement, which itself has gained a lot of traction within the conservative movement. For one thing, Oath Keepers is part of the Friends for Liberty coalition, an umbrella group for such Tea Party-friendly movements as Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project and the John Birch Society. Rhodes is even on the planning committee for the 2010 9/12 Project. …

Also, notably, Oath Keepers has a booth at the ongoing CPAC conference in Washington, D.C., where they are handing out a DVD called “For Liberty: How the Ron Paul Revolution Watered the Withered Tree of Liberty” (the ties between the group and Ron Paul don’t stop there – Rhodes himself is a former member of Paul’s D.C. staff, according to his Oath Keeper’s bio page).

CPAC. Glenn Beck. The John Birch Society. Ron Paul. The point isn’t that all the ingredients were there for what became seditious conspiracy. It’s not as simple as a pinch of Ron Paul and a dollop of Birchers and a cup of Tea Party and presto you have a coup. Rather, the point is that conservatism in America, or what passed for it in its various manifestations, went off the rails more than a decade before the events of Jan. 6. Barack Obama’s election was, we all know, a catalyzing event. But it didn’t start there, and it certainly didn’t start in 2016 with the election of Donald Trump.

[Boldface added]


Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson

May 8, 2023

Beginning in the 1980s, Republican leaders found voters to support their “supply-side” economics, which cut taxes and regulations to concentrate wealth so investors could bolster growth, by turning their base against “liberals.” Calling those who opposed their policies “socialists” out to rig the system to redistribute wealth to minorities and women, they began the process of forging a base that considered itself the only real Americans. That process continued over the decades as right-wing media reinforced the idea. Still, though, leaders focused on their economic policies, especially tax cuts, and emphasized culture wars primarily to turn out voters.

Trump turned that formula on its head, playing directly to the base. He offered its members the anti-Black, anti-immigrant, and antiabortion measures it craved, in exchange for utter commitment to his leadership. His drive for authoritarianism dovetailed with a religious movement to create a new ideology for the Republican Party, one that explicitly rejects democracy.

That argument, articulated most clearly by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, is that the secular principles of liberal democracy—equality before the law, free speech, freedom to go to church or not, academic inquiry, a free press, immigration, companies that can make decisions based on markets rather than morality—destroy virtue by tearing down the sexual and religious guardrails of traditional society. In order to bring that virtue back, right-wing thinkers argue, the government must defend religion and self-sacrifice (although it’s hard to miss that they’re looking for other people to make those sacrifices, not themselves). 

Last week, on May 4 and 5, the Conservative Political Action Conference met in Budapest for the second time, and once again, Orbán delivered the keynote address. The theme was the uniting of the radical right across national boundaries. “Come back, Mr President,” Orbán said of Trump’s 2024 presidential bid. “Make America great again and bring us peace.” Orbán claimed his suppression of LGBTQ+ rights, academic freedom, and the media is a model for the world. 

Plenty of the people there from the U.S. seemed to agree. “Hungary,” Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said, “is a beacon.” 

In a recorded message, Trump said conservatives were “freedom-loving patriots” who are “fighting against barbarians.” “We believe in tradition, the rule of law, freedom of speech and a God-given dignity of every human life. These are ideas that bind together our movement,” he said. He called for the audience to “stand together to defend our borders, our Judeo-Christian values, our identity and our way of life.”

While conference organizers were celebrating Hungary as the only truly free country in Europe, they were taking advantage of Hungary’s suppression of the media to permit only hand-picked journalists to cover the event. Failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake said that “truth-tellers and peacemakers” were being destroyed by “fake news,” as they call every journalist who criticizes them.  

Jacob Heilbrunn of the National Interest was one of those barred from the conference. He watched from his hotel room and wrote in Politico, “Throughout, the idea was clear: Liberalism is synonymous with tyranny.”

This ideology is behind the right-wing attacks on immigrants, LGBTQ Americans, the media, reproductive rights, and education. Florida, led by governor Ron DeSantis, has been out front on these issues, but other Republican-dominated states are following suit. Eager to stay at the head of the “movement,” Trump recently claimed that universities are “dominated by marxist maniacs & lunatics” and vowed to bring them under control of the radical right. “He will impose real standards on American colleges and universities,” his website says, “to include defending the American tradition and Western civilization.” 

That formulation is also what enables the very people who are taking away others’ rights to claim that they are the ones being persecuted. The reference to right-wing death squads on Garcia’s vest refers to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, whose goons murdered thousands of political opponents, often by tossing them from helicopters. Since the 2016 Trump campaign, modern right-wing activists in the U.S. wear T-shirts offering “free helicopter rides,” and saying “Pinochet did nothing wrong.” 

These ideas are embraced only by a minority in the United States, but that minority is working hard to cement its power by gaming the system. Election lawyer Marc Elias recently warned that “we cannot out-organize voter suppression” and that the myth that we can “minimizes the real world effects of repeated, targeted suppression laws. It shifts the burden from the suppressors to the voters. It suggests that victims of voter suppression simply need to be better ‘organized.’” 

He notes that Ohio, Arkansas, South Dakota, Idaho, and Florida have all passed voter suppression laws this year and that the new laws put in place after 2020 have worked. Minority and youth voting have dropped significantly. Since 2008, Black voting in states dominated by Democrats has increased by 1.8 points; in Republican-dominated states it has dropped by four points. In Georgia, Black participation rates dropped from 47.8% to 43.2% between 2018 and 2022. Hispanic participation dropped from 27.6% to 25.1%, and the youth vote dropped from 33% to 26%.

Voter suppression is not “campaign tactics,” Elias warns. It is “the illegal and immoral deprivation of constitutional rights.”


Scenes from CPAC 2023



Despite the emerging field of Republican presidential candidates willing to take on former President Donald Trump, this year’s CPAC was more unabashedly MAGA than ever.

But now CPAC has become the Trump show, and few Republicans here tried to diminish Trump’s star. Many potential 2024 candidates skipped the weekend entirely.

Introduced as “the next president of the United States,” Trump dished red meat to an adoring audience that leapt to their feet when he walked out on the main stage.

“We will finish what we started,” Trump told the audience.

“We will dismantle the Deep State. We will demolish woke tyranny and we will restore the American republic to all its radiant glory.”

Five takeaways from this year’s CPAC




The event is losing its luster

This year’s CPAC attracted thinner crowds than in years past — making it feel like a ghost of the event that was once all-encompassing of the Republican Party’s many different groups.

Groups mingling in the halls were smaller. The auditorium for Haley and Pompeo — some of the conference’s most high-profile speakers — was sparsely populated during their speeches. While Trump attracted a larger crowd, even his presence at CPAC was not enough to fill the entire ballroom, as a wide section of seats in the back of the room remained empty.

Grievance politics take center stage

Throughout the multiday event, Trump and his allies used their platforms to promote unfounded claims of election fraud and target critics — many of them Republicans.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House strategist, lashed out at Fox News and the Murdochs, alleging they weren’t covering the former president’s campaign enough, while also falsely referring to the 2020 election as stolen.

Trump himself repeated his unfounded election claims during his closing speech, and falsely suggested that Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake (R) lost her race last year due to election malfeasance. 

2024 could get ugly

While the GOP primary field is still solidifying, the event put into sharp relief the divisions within the Republican Party and pointed to a contentious general election as Trump framed the race in war-like terms.

Though DeSantis has been pitched by some Republicans as a formidable alternative to Trump, CPAC demonstrated that the former president still maintains a strong influence over the party and hinted at a potentially volatile primary.

The former president also suggested that his campaign to take back the White House in 2024 was a quest to get back at his adversaries on both sides of the aisle in Washington. 

“In 2016, I declared, ‘I am your voice.’ Today I add: I am your warrior, I am your justice, and for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution!” Trump exclaimed to the crowd. 

How CPAC turned into a circus with Trump as ringmaster


As CPAC’s head faces sexual assault claim, other leadership concerns emerge

Matt Schlapp, who runs the Conservative Political Action Conference, has been backed by prominent Republicans but some staffers complain of the group’s culture


Ditching CPAC


The Anti-CPAC

The annual Star Wars bar scene of CPAC opens this weekend, but so does an alternative — the Principles First conference. (The Bulwark is a sponsor and will have a major presence, so we hope to see you there.)

Principles First founder Heath Mayo writes:

When CPAC convenes this weekend, you’ll sooner find a golden statue of Trump than a conservative principle. Instead of rejecting the Nixonian corruption of our day, CPAC will hand Steve Bannon a microphone and Kari Lake an award. And if any ideas happen to find their way into the agenda, they won’t be conservative or even American. They’ll be the mindless musings of a rudderless illiberalism – like how the Constitution should be terminated, how we need a “national divorce,” how only lost elections are rigged, how our own law enforcement is a ‘deep state‘ bent on destroying us, or how America really shouldn’t care what happens in Ukraine.   

America, writes Mayo, deserves something better.

That’s what we’ve built at the Principles First Summit – which will be held during the same dates as CPAC at the Conrad Hotel in DC starting this Friday, March 3 to Sunday, March 5.  We’ll focus on America’s institutions – why they matter, why they are fraying, and how they can be preserved and strengthened. We’ll convene governors and state election officials from around the country who defeated election deniers and spoke truth about the vote. Former generals and ambassadors will discuss our foreign policy institutions and Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine. Party leaders and former candidates will look at our parties as institutions – and ask whether innovation is possible. We’ll also tackle other of America’s institutions – Congress, the courts, the Constitution, the presidency, the cable news media and free press, and churches. The full agenda is available on our website.


Matt Schlapp allegedly groped a young man—hurting his already dwindling influence

Schlapp’s lobbying business has cratered. Now his Republican support is on thin ice.
Good afternoon, Press Pass readers! Today’s edition is all about Matt Schlapp, the Republican influence peddler and chair of the Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC).

Schlapp’s allies in Washington span Republican politics and, once upon a time, a significant number of powerful corporations. But in the wake of a lawsuit that followed multiple news reports about allegations that Schlapp sexually assaulted a young man working for the Herschel Walker campaign, those close ties appear to be fraying—and fast.

Schlapp’s lobbying firm, Cove Strategies, has lost significant business over the past two years, but that can be chalked up primarily to his diminished influence at a time of Democratic control in Washington. After losing a hefty roster of corporate clients, Schlapp sent a letter a few weeks before the midterm elections offering CPAC’s support for candidates on the condition that they pledge not to meet with CEOs and lobbyists for corporations who have “gone woke.” Schlapp’s previous clients included major corporations such as Walmart, Samsung, and Comcast.

But Cove still held on to one client through last year: Oracle, the software giant (and proponent of DEI policies that Schlapp and his allies would probably deride as “woke”). According to a disclosure signed by Schlapp last Friday, he brought in $50,000 from Oracle at the end of 2022, bringing the total to $200,000 for the year. A spokesperson for Oracle did not respond to a request for comment.

Many Congressional Republicans are keeping Schlapp at arm’s length

CPAC’s main annual conference is making its return to Washington in March after several years in Florida, where it moved in protest of mask mandates. (CPAC also hosts other big meetings elsewhere, including a gathering in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary last year—an event it plans to repeat this year.) This year’s proceedings will take place at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, a huge space just across the river from D.C. in National Harbor, Maryland. A spokesperson for Marriott, which manages the Gaylord Resort, did not respond to a request for comment.

Republicans in Congress have become ambivalent about Schlapp, with some waffling on any plans to attend the conference. 

James Lankford, the Oklahoma senator who appears regularly at CPAC—last year, he led a Protestant service on the Sunday morning of the conference in Orlando—told me he’s received his invitation to attend, but right now he is unwilling to commit to a speaking engagement.

“We did get a reach-out from them,” he said. “But we’ve not even determined the schedule on that, so I don’t know.”

Sen. Mike Braun, who is currently moonlighting as a candidate for governor of Indiana, didn’t seem enthused at the idea of attending CPAC this year. Braun, who participated in a panel under the title “Obamacare Still Kills” at last year’s convention, made a point of telling me he had only ever been to CPAC the one time. He added, “We’re not scheduled to be on there. I went there [to speak on] health care only because I’d like to reform it.”

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who just announced his re-election campaign, brushed off the allegations against Schlapp, telling me he would happily go to CPAC if invited.

“Everybody’s got to explain what happened, so we’ll figure it out,” he said. “My experience has been really positive with CPAC . . . I don’t know if I’ll get invited, but assuming I do, I’ll probably go.”

Freshman Ohio Rep. Max Miller, a former Trump administration staffer who played a role in organizing Trump’s January 6th rally on the Ellipse in front of the White House, said he’d, “have to look into it to make the assessment” on whether to attend CPAC. “In terms of the allegations, that’s unfortunate for Mr. Schlapp,” he added.

Rep. Ralph Norman, the South Carolina Republican who played a key role in stalling Kevin McCarthy’s journey to the speakership, participated in an interview with Schlapp after the allegations against him were already public and had been reported on by multiple media outlets.

Norman told me he will speak again at CPAC this year: “I’ve always been a supporter of [Schlapp’s] and CPAC’s,” he said. “So we’ll see how that plays out.”

Regarding the allegations, Norman said, “There’s two sides to every coin, and this is completely different from . . . the CPAC functions,” referring to policy issues like the federal budget.

“That’s his issue. He’s been accused of something,” Norman said. “He’ll have to finish that.”

Two regularly featured CPAC guests, Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert, refused to answer questions about Schlapp, opting instead to walk away in silence.

So far, there is one confirmed attendee who is himself no stranger to sexual misconduct allegations. Schlapp announced last week that Donald Trump will be a featured speaker. As of today, CPAC has confirmed two Republican members of Congress to speak: Tennessee Rep. Mark Green and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Fox News has taken the Schlapps off the air

Schlapp has also quietly disappeared from the Fox News airwaves. Schlapp and his wife Mercedes, a former director of strategic communications for the Trump White House, were longtime fixtures on Fox, with both of them making dozens of appearances in 2022. (Mercedes was once a paid contributor.) But since the allegations were published in the Daily Beast and then amplified by NBC News, the duo has not appeared on the network, which has also not covered the allegations.

Zachary Pleat of Media Matters wrote a smart analysis of the Schlapps’ apparent hiatus, noting that the allegations have received substantial coverage on other networks, especially after the former Walker staffer filed his lawsuit against Schlapp on January 17.

Matt Schlapp’s power over the years has stemmed from his connections. His relationships with GOP members of Congress, his ability to curry favors with Republicans in power positions on behalf of corporations, and his role as a ticket-taker and ringleader of the CPAC circus, with its big crowds and media attention, have been key components of that. All of that has severely diminished in the last couple of years, since Trump left town and CPAC fled D.C.’s COVID restrictions. The allegations that Schlapp groped a young man, and the lawsuit that has lent further credence to those allegations, are not helping him reconsolidate his power now that Republicans have regained some sway in Washington.



Matt Schlapp and Our Culture of Protecting Predators

The allegations show political institutions still prefer silence to accountability when it comes to standing up for powerless victims.


Last week The Daily Beast broke a story about a Herschel Walker campaign staffer accusing Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, of making “sustained and unwanted and unsolicited” sexual contact with the staffer while in a car. As per the story: “The staffer said the incident occurred the night of Oct. 19, when Schlapp… ‘groped’ and ‘fondled’ his crotch in his car against his will after buying him drinks at two different bars.”

If the allegations are true, they’re part of a familiar, age-old narrative: people with power and authority targeting the more vulnerable, junior people in their circles of influence. Over the past few decades, our society has become more conscious of the degradation and damage many are subject to from such behavior.

If the allegations against Schlapp are true, they represent rank hypocrisy by a self-professed conservative who regularly lambasted Democrats for sexual improprieties while gleefully defending a Republican president who bragged about grabbing women by their genitals.

But worse than hypocrisy is the culture of abuse, propped up by institutions and enabled by silence. It must end.

Jennifer Horn is a registered independent who previously served as a co-founder of The Lincoln Project, New Hampshire GOP chairman, RNC Executive Committee Member, and GOP congressional candidate.


““The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn