The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) officially began Wednesday, housed at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. While the American Conservative Union’s annual gathering has long served as a veritable who’s-who of far-right conservative movements, this year’s guest list is particularly star-studded, with nearly a dozen speakers from across the Trump administration scheduled to appear. Vice President Mike Pence will address the crowd tonight, and President Donald Trump will take the stage Friday morning, reportedly to “say appreciation and to drive this movement forward,” according to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
So then perhaps it’s fitting that the first full day of CPAC speakers channeled the president’s rhetorical style, rapidly firing off half-truths and bold-faced lies that reframe core American principles into a format that’s convenient for “the most conservative cabinet in decades,” as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called the current administration.
Playing fast and loose with objective facts has long been a norm for modern American politicians, but in the wake of Trump’s electoral victory—and his campaign built on fear, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia—the use of “alt-facts” seems to be spreading like a dangerous virus for which our culture has not yet developed a vaccine. Read on for some of the most egregious untruths told to CPAC attendees today, complete with accurate information to contradict the claims made in the videos below.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had a “conversation about the Constitution” with Conservative Review radio host Mark Levin.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Sen. Cruz adamantly opposed Trump’s candidacy, frequently unleashing his own breed of firebrand rhetoric against The Donald. But now that Trump is in the White House and Republicans control the House and Senate, Cruz has changed his tune—bigly, one might even say. Now, it seems Cruz’s primary goal is antagonizing Senate Democrats…right up until they threaten to follow Cruz’s own obstructionist playbook. Democrats, Cruz said, are “living in an alternative universe.” He continued:
They are in denial, and they’re angry. … The anger on the left, I’ve never seen anything like it. They’re right now opposing everything. Democrats in the Senate are filibustering absolutely everything. … The cabinet is still not confirmed—this is the longest we’ve been since George Washington without confirming a cabinet.”
But, as the BBC has reported, this is demonstrably false. One doesn’t even need to go very far back to find a historical example of a president’s cabinet being confirmed at a glacial pace. In 2009, President Obama’s final cabinet appointee wasn’t confirmed until April 28, reports the BBC. In fact, the only president who has seen his full cabinet confirmed by the end of January was George W. Bush.
“The Democrats took that the lesson of this election was that Hillary was too moderate,” Cruz continued, smirking as the audience laughed. “And so their lesson is, they need more Bernie Sanders, more Elizabeth Warren—that’s where Senate Democrats are. What that means, is I think it is likely that they will continue to oppose everything. Now that means, for us, the answer can’t be ‘OK, shut down the Congress.'”
It is deeply hypocritical for a sitting Senator, who rose to national prominence during his (successful) campaign to literally shut down the federal government, to suddenly be so deeply concerned with the efficacy of Congress.
Nevertheless, he did thank former Majority Leader Harry Reid, who in 2013 deployed the so-called “nuclear option” in the Senate to require a simple majority vote to approve most cabinet-level confirmations. “It is a direct result of Harry Reid that we now have the most conservative cabinet in decades,” Cruz said to enthusiastic applause. “Harry Reid, thank you for Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And also, we should be thanking Harry Reid for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and very, very soon, for Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch.”
Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon: Everything The Media Tells You Is a Lie
Two of Trump’s top advisors, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Senior Advisor to the President Steve Bannon, took the stage together in an unusually cordial 30-minute discussion moderated by ACU chairman Matt Schlapp.
Then again, reports of a tense working relationship between Priebus, a longtime establishment Republican who most recently served as director of the Republican National Committee, and Bannon, the self-avowed white nationalist who formerly ran right-wing site Breitbart News, are greatly exaggerated, both men said. Asked to address the biggest misconceptions about the tenor inside Trump’s White House, Priebus wasted no time in declaring “everything that you’re reading” is untrue. But, he said, “The truth of the matter is, Donald Trump showed, President Trump, brought together the party and the conservative movement. And I’ve got to tell you: if the party and the conservative movement are together, similar to Steve and I, it can’t be stopped.”
Bannon, for his part, reiterated his headline-grabbing proclamation that members of the media are “the opposition party,” and are inherently dishonest. Contrary to numerous reports, Trump’s inner circle has been running smoothly since Bannon came on board in mid-August, he said.
“I think if you look at the opposition party, and how they portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition, and how they’re portraying the administration—it’s always wrong,” Bannon said. He went on:
That’s what the mainstream media won’t report…Just like they were dead wrong on the chaos of the campaign, and just like they were dead wrong on the chaos of the transition, they are absolutely dead wrong on what’s going on today. Because we have a team that is just grinding it through on [what] President Donald Trump promised the American people. And the mainstream media better understand something: All of those promises are going to be implemented.
When Schlapp asked each man to detail the most critical accomplishments in the first 30 days of Trump’s presidency, Priebus pointed to traditional Republican goals, including the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, which he framed as an example of Trump establishing “trust” with the American people, pointing to the list of 20 names (including Gorsuch’s) that the Trump campaign released as potential nominees last summer. Priebus went on to complain that Trump’s January 30th executive order on deregulation had been underreported, neglecting to mention any of the coverage from The New York Times, The Atlantic, Esquire, The Wall Street Journal, or NBC News and Reuters.
But the former RNC chairman stepped well outside the realm of reality when he claimed that “80 percent of Americans agree” with putting a wall along the nation’s southern border. Aside from the fact that there is already a wall along the vast majority of the U.S.-Mexico border, a January report from the Pew Research Center found that less than half of Americans consider Trump’s much-touted “border wall” to be a priority for immigration reform. It is unclear where Priebus got his information that “80 percent” of Americans want a taller, thicker border wall, but no one onstage today challenged his claim.
Among other dubious claims that cannot be objectively debunked was Bannon’s assertion that Trump is the “greatest public speaker since Williams Jennings Bryan,” the late 19th-century Democrat and fervent populist who also had a penchant for gold. To his credit (and our panic), Bannon was surprisingly straightforward about his ideological goals for the next four years. He repeatedly called himself (and by extension, the president) an “economic nationalist,” point-blank admitting that the goal of Trump’s picks for regulatory leadership positions is “the deconstruction of the regulatory state.” In other words, it’s no coincidence that the newly confirmed administrator of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has spent the past decade suing the very agency he now leads. Bannon framed all these advances as zero-sum goals, stressing that those supportive of the Trump agenda will have to “fight” to take their country.
“I’ve said that there’s a new political order that’s being formed out of this [moment],” Bannon added. “We are a nation with a culture and a reason for being, and I think that’s what unites us.” Given Bannon’s long history of promoting white nationalism and his fondness for the so-called “alt-right,” it doesn’t take a scholar to read between the lines about which culture Bannon believes unites true Americans.
Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee: Sanctuary Cities Are An Affront to Our Sovereignty?
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke opened his remarks on Friday morning’s panel titled “When Did WWIII Begin? Part A: Threats at Home” by declaring that “blue lives matter.” He then quickly pivoted to discussion of sanctuary cities, which he described as “providing safe haven for people who have illegally crossed our borders, come into our country, outside of the rules that Congress has set up for immigration.” That’s a reasonably fair description, especially given the ideological bent of CPAC speakers. But then the sheriff took 10 paces backward from the facts.
Paraphrasing the President’s remarks earlier this month, Clarke said:
Sanctuary cities are havens for criminal activity. Sanctuary cities provide cover, if you will, for criminal illegal immigrants to continue to prey on, not only law-abiding people, but also illegal immigrants in this country.
And here’s why they’re able to do that with impunity. Because, if you are a criminal illegal alien, and you rape, rob, whatever, another illegal alien in the country, it’s less likely that they are going to report that, because they don’t want to be discovered to be in the country themselves. So we have a lot of under-reported and unreported serious crimes in America because of sanctuary cities.
This incendiary statement is, at best, unproven. At worst, it is a willful distortion of the best research and data available. Crime rates among undocumented immigrants are notoriously difficult to track accurately, in part for the reason Clarke recognized. But the allegation that sanctuary cities are “havens” for violence is patently false. There is simply no evidence to suggest that cities that decline to cooperate with federal immigration officials see an uptick in unreported crimes. In short, sanctuary cities do not “breed crime,” as the President has contended.
What’s more, cities that don’t cooperate with immigration officials are actually more likely to see local crimes reported when they are committed against undocumented residents, since the city provides a layer of protection to the victim in assuring that they won’t be deported for reporting abuse. But there is a direct chilling effect when federal immigration agents descend on undocumented crime victims in sanctuary cities.
For evidence, look no further than the ICE arrest of an undocumented trans woman from Mexico, who was detained by ICE agents on February 9 while she was inside an El Paso County courthouse, after a judge granted her a protective order against an ex-partner who was allegedly abusing her. Because El Paso is a sanctuary city, local officials believe that ICE agents were tipped off by the woman’s alleged abuser—the only other person who would have the specific information about her court date and a potential motive to report her to immigration officials. Acting on information from an alleged abuser—in this case, a person already in ICE custody—is against longstanding policy. But more than that, the executive director of El Paso’s Center Against Sexual and Family Violence told reporters that “her office has heard from several immigrant clients who are now worried about whether they will be safe and asking what they should do,” according to ThinkProgress.