Washington – Thousands of American conservatives gathered over the weekend in Texas to hear Donald Trump and his allies push the falsehood of election fraud, as the Republican Party increasingly galvanizes around its pugnacious leader ahead of next year's midterms.
Some allies of the former president — who remains the party's influential exemplar, fueling speculation about his 2024 political ambitions — are promoting chaos and obstruction as their strategy.
Others are going so far as to seek the ouster of fellow Republican politicians who, despite their ultraconservative bona fides, are not sufficiently promoting the lie that Democrats stole the November election.
The Conservative Political Action Conference's three-day gathering, its second of 2021, kicked off Friday at a Dallas hotel with fierce criticism of President Joe Biden's first six months in office.
Speakers also spent much of CPAC obsessing over claims that the election was stolen — red meat to a base all-too-eager to lap it up.
"We were doing so well until the rigged election happened to come along," Trump said, as chants of "Four more years!" echoed through the auditorium.
Just how unflinchingly loyal are CPAC Republicans to Trump? Of the 27 U.S. lawmakers who spoke, 24 of them voted against certifying the election results that confirmed Joe Biden as the winner.
Election integrity has become perhaps the top political fight, with Republicans introducing hundreds of bills in several states that Democrats warn restrict ballot box access, mainly for minority voters.
There are more signs of political obstinacy as Republicans assail Democrats ahead of next year's pivotal midterms.
The top Republican in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, is mulling how to derail, or at least downplay, the Democratic-led select committee that will probe the deadly insurrection of Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol.
McCarthy has also declined to rein in his most vocally extremist members.
They include congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who accused Biden and top pandemic adviser Anthony Fauci of deploying "Needle Nazis" to her Colorado district to boost vaccination rates.
"Don't come knocking on my door with your Fauci ouchie," Boebert steamed at CPAC, where crowds cheered news that vaccination rates have declined. "You leave us the hell alone."
Another House Republican, Paul Gosar, has faced scrutiny for his association with Nick Fuentes, leader of a white nationalist group who has praised the Jan. 6 riot and denied the Holocaust.
The political tumult comes as more Republicans, particularly in the House, make clear they are not interested in the party being a serious legislating force or even a traditional political opposition.
A leaked video recently circulating in U.S. media shows congressman Chip Roy advocating havoc in an all-out bid to tank the Biden presidency and help Republicans win back Congress next year.
"Eighteen more months of chaos and the inability to get stuff done, that's what we want," Roy told activists in the video.
Trump and other CPAC speakers offered a litany of party grievances: illegal immigration, attacks on America's heritage, rising crime, big tech overreach and critical race theory.
"You probably wouldn't be here if you didn't have a few grievances against the government, right?" congressman Jim Banks, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, told the crowd.
CPAC has traditionally been a gathering for Republican rising stars, but it has tilted rightward since the ascent of Trump and his Make America Great Again movement.
Absent from the conference were most other potential 2024 hopefuls, including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, ex-U.N. envoy Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Still, one message resonated above others: "Regardless of whether president Trump runs in '24 or not, Republicans need to stick with the 'America first' agenda," congressman Greg Steube told CPAC.
That irked House Republican Adam Kinzinger, who voted to impeach Trump in January for inciting the Capitol insurrection.
"You either have to be a zombie for the MAGA belief system … or actually stand up and tell your constituents the truth," he told NBC.
Kinzinger's remains an uphill battle. On Sunday CPAC released its 2024 presidential straw poll, a survey that Trump suggested could be tainted — if he didn't like the results.
"If it's bad, I say it's fake," he said to cheers. "If it's good, I say it's the most accurate poll, perhaps ever."
Trump won the poll in a landslide, with 70% support.
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