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CPAC Takeaways: Trump, Kristi Noem, Ron DeSantis, ‘Cancel Culture’

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Any lingering belief that Donald J. Trump would fade from the political scene like other past presidents evaporated fully on Sunday as he spoke for more than 90 minutes in a grievance-filled and self-promoting address that sought to polish up his presidential legacy, take aim at his enemies and tease his political future.

Here are six takeaways from the first major Republican gathering of the post-Trump era, the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla.

“I am not starting a new party,” Mr. Trump declared, nixing rumors and making news in the first moments of the first speech of his post-presidency.

And why would he? Mr. Trump remains the most influential Republican politician in the nation. The three-day CPAC gathering in Orlando showed how fully the Republican Party has been remade in his image in the five years since he boycotted the conference in 2016 en route to capturing the party’s nomination.

In a meandering speech guided by a teleprompter and interrupted with cheering that at times read more obligatory than enthusiastic, Mr. Trump lashed out at President Biden and outlined his vision of a culture- and immigration-focused Republican Party while relitigating his specific grievances from 2020.

Mr. Trump named every Republican who voted for his impeachment. “Get rid of them all,” he said. And he predicted a Republican would win the White House in 2024. “Who, who, who will that be, I wonder?” he mused.

The speech came right after Mr. Trump won a CPAC 2024 presidential straw poll, finishing with 55 percent of the vote — more than double the percentage of his closest runner-up. But that victory was dampened by the fact that only 68 percent of the attendees at the conference said they wanted him to run again.

A second straw poll, without Mr. Trump, was carried by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who received 43 percent on his home turf, followed by Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota with 11 percent.

Those results showcased the challenge that senators face in edging ahead of governors in the 2024 pack of potential presidential candidates. Both Mr. DeSantis and Ms. Noem highlighted their efforts to keep the economy open during the coronavirus pandemic, which proved a more popular résumé point than the legislative fights that senators in Washington have been engaged in.

In his first presidential bid, Mr. Trump adopted “fake news” as a rallying cry against the traditional news media and then effectively and relentlessly deployed it to position himself as the sole arbiter of truth for his supporters.

The lineup of CPAC speakers over the weekend showed how thoroughly a new pair of catchphrases — “cancel culture” and the “woke mob” — are animating a Republican Party that, beyond supporting Mr. Trump, appears increasingly centered on defining itself in opposition to the left.

“Didn’t anybody tell you?” Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri began his CPAC speech. “You’re supposed to be canceled.”

The crowd cheered as “cancel culture” served throughout the weekend as shorthand for bashing the news media, railing against the tech industry (in particular, Twitter’s and Facebook’s decisions to bar Mr. Trump from their platforms), and spreading fear about the decline of conservative and religious values in American popular culture.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, one of his party’s most adroit culture warriors, summarized the annoyance and alienation felt by attendees at the right-wing gathering because of the continuing pandemic.

“You can French kiss the guy next to you yelling ‘Abolish the police’ and no one will get infected,” he mocked. “But if you go to church and say ‘Amazing grace,’ everyone is going to die.”

T.W. Shannon, a Republican from Oklahoma, was the first to say it. Speaking Friday morning on a panel called “Tolerance Reimagined: The Angry Mob and Violence in Our Streets,” Mr. Shannon said the reason pro-Trump demonstrators stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 was that “they felt hopeless.”

And that, he said, was “because of a rigged election.”

The election was not rigged, of course, but by the end of CPAC it was clear that the lie Mr. Trump had promoted vigorously had become canon among the base of the Republican Party. On Sunday, the conference’s straw poll results revealed that 62 percent of attendees ranked “election integrity” as the most important issue facing the country.

For those who tuned into Mr. Hawley’s speech, this was probably unsurprising: Mr. Hawley, who was the first Senate Republican to announce his plans to object to the Electoral College certification, electrified the CPAC audience when he reminded them of his defiance.

“On Jan. 6, I objected to the Electoral College certification — maybe you heard about it,” Mr. Hawley said with a wry grin. People erupted in applause.

In interviews, multiple CPAC attendees were adamant that widespread voter fraud had led to the election of Mr. Biden — and some inadvertently suggested the long-term consequences this could pose for the party.

Pamela Roehl, 55, who traveled to the conference from Illinois, said some of her pro-Trump friends had written off civic engagement for good. “They voted for Trump, and they said they’re not going to vote again, because they just feel like it’s so tainted,” she said. “And that is just so sad.”

As the conference began, House Democrats were preparing to approve a coronavirus relief package worth nearly $2 trillion that was opposed by every House Republican. But inside the Hyatt Regency in Orlando, it was hard to find many conservatives who cared.

CPAC in past years has served, at minimum, as a forum for conservatives to unite in opposition to a Democratic policy agenda. But most speakers over the weekend won applause by channeling the preoccupation with personality over policy that animated the party during Mr. Trump’s presidency. The result was an event in which conservatives signaled their lack of interest not just in mobilizing against Mr. Biden’s policies, but also in debating the finer points of their own.

Mr. DeSantis suggested that the current threat posed by the left was too dangerous for conservatives to prioritize policy discussions.

“We can sit around and have academic debates about conservative policy — we can do that,” he said. “But the question is, when the Klieg lights get hot, when the left comes after you: Will you stay strong, or will you fold?”

In an illustration of how Mr. Trump has transformed the party, there was strikingly little mention of curbing spending at a moment when congressional Democrats are moving to restore earmarks. And while CPAC attendees ranked immigration as the third most important issue facing the country, few speakers discussed specific policy proposals to shape the party’s stance on the issue beyond continuing to support Mr. Trump’s border wall.

Ms. Noem, who came in second to Mr. DeSantis in the CPAC straw poll without Mr. Trump, was one of the standout speakers of the weekend, delivering a staunchly pro-Trump message and highlighting the anti-lockdown and anti-mask policies that in the past year have made her a darling of the base of the Republican Party.

She jolted to stardom in Republican circles last year when she refused to issue a lockdown order for South Dakota or to enforce a mask mandate. Instead, she advocated “washing your hands and making good decisions.”

South Dakota now has the country’s eighth-highest death rate from Covid-19.

Ms. Noem received a standing ovation at CPAC when she boasted that she had never ordered a “single business or church to close,” and another one when she attacked Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.

In the hours leading up to her speech on Saturday, many attendees praised Ms. Noem as their favorite Republican — apart from Mr. Trump, of course.

“I like Kristi Noem because she fights back,” said Sany Dash, who sold pro-Trump merchandise at the conference. “I feel like she’s a female Trump, except not crass or rude. ”

Senator Rick Scott of Florida, who runs the Republican political committee trying to win back the Senate in 2022, tried to downplay any intraparty disagreements and urged activists to focus on opposing the Democratic agenda.

The problem is that some of his party’s biggest names — including and especially Mr. Trump — are focused first on exacting revenge for those who strayed from the Trump party line on impeachment.

Donald Trump Jr. excoriated Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the top-ranking Republican to vote to impeach his father, as aggressively as he did any Democrat in his speech. Mr. Trump on Friday announced that one of his first 2022 endorsements would be for the primary opponent of Representative Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, another Republican who voted for impeachment. The mere mention of Senator Mitt Romney’s name drew derision.

In his own speech, Mr. Trump named every Republican who voted for his impeachment in the House and for conviction in the Senate, focusing special attention on Ms. Cheney, whom he called a “warmonger.”

But even if there are critical parts of the Republican apparatus at war, the activist flank of the party remains firmly behind Mr. Trump. Or, as he put it, “The only division is between a handful of Washington, D.C., establishment political hacks and everybody else.”

There were no more surefire applause lines than those that heaped praise on the former president.

When Donald Trump Jr. jokingly called the gathering “TPAC” instead of CPAC — “It’s what it feels like, guys!” he said — it felt less like an awkward joke and more a statement of 2021 reality.

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In Washington, Policy Revolves Around Joe Manchin. He Likes It That Way.

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WASHINGTON — If Democrats eliminate the filibuster, there is one senator who would have an outsized impact in the 50-50 chamber on issues that could reshape the nation’s future: infrastructure, immigration, gun laws and voting rights. That senator is Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

There is also a senator whose opposition to eliminating the filibuster is a significant reason it may never happen. That senator, too, is Mr. Manchin.

“He should want to get rid of the filibuster because he suddenly becomes the most powerful person in this place — he’s the 50th vote on everything,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, sketching out the argument.

Mr. Manchin, however, does not see it that way. To the exasperation of Democrats, delight of Republicans and bewilderment of politicians who can’t understand why he wouldn’t want to wield more power, Mr. Manchin, a former governor of the state, isn’t budging.

“Sixty votes,” he said in an interview last week in his office, referring to the threshold required to advance most legislation, adding that he would not consider suspending the filibuster for certain bills, as some of his colleagues have floated: “You’re either committed or not.”

But with 18 people dead after two mass shootings within a week, a worsening migrant challenge on the border and Republicans trying to restrict voting in almost every state where they hold power, liberals believe this moment cries out for a different sort of commitment. At a time when they have full control of Congress and are confronting overlapping crises, many Democrats feel a moral and political imperative to act, process be damned.

That puts Mr. Manchin, 73, at the center of the most important policy debates in Washington — and has set the stage for a collision between a party eager to use its majorities to pass sweeping legislation and a political throwback determined to restore bipartisanship to a chamber that’s as polarized as the country.

Mr. Manchin believes that ending the legislative filibuster would effectively destroy the Senate. He recalled his predecessor, Robert C. Byrd, telling him that the chamber had been designed to force consensus.

Mr. Manchin has expressed willingness to support a “talking filibuster,” in which lawmakers have to actually hold the floor, perhaps for many hours, to block a vote. But he has not yielded on getting rid of it altogether and on an array of issues, including voting rights and gun control, his admonition is less about any particular policy end and more about making sure the legislation has support from both parties.

More broadly, Mr. Manchin’s resistance to ending the filibuster has ripened fundamental questions about which version of Congress would be more dysfunctional: a body stymied by gridlock or one that can pass legislation only by scrapping longstanding guidelines so it can push through party-line votes?

“You can’t make the place work if nothing significant is getting passed,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a leading progressive from California.

Mr. Manchin worries that the short-term benefit of ditching the filibuster would backfire for Democrats over the long term.

“I’m concerned about the House pushing an agenda that would be hard for us to maintain the majority,” Mr. Manchin said about the progressive legislation that House Democrats are stacking up at the Senate door. As for pressure from the left, he said, tauntingly: “What are they going to do, they going to go into West Virginia and campaign against me? Please, that would help me more than anything.”

To a growing number of his Democratic colleagues — and not just liberals — it’s naïve to keep putting hope over history, and believe, as Mr. Manchin said about gun legislation, that Republicans may say, “Listen, it’s time for us to do the reasonable, sensible thing.”

Of course, few in a Senate that depends on Mr. Manchin for a 50th vote will say outright that their colleague is indulging in fantasy.

“Joe’s focus, I believe, is bipartisanship, and I agree with the starting point,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, before lowering the boom: “They weren’t going to give us a single vote,” he said about the stimulus bill.

A former high school quarterback who friends say still relishes being at the center of the action, Mr. Manchin is something of a unicorn in today’s Congress. As a pro-coal and anti-abortion Democrat, he reflects a less-homogenized era when regionalism was as significant as partisanship and senators were more individual actors than predictable votes for their caucus.

Twice elected governor before claiming Mr. Byrd’s seat, he’s the only lawmaker standing in the way of an all-Republican congressional delegation in West Virginia, a state that former President Donald J. Trump carried by nearly 40 points last year. And he is an unlikely majority-maker of the Democratic Senate.

“We really are the big tent,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, before knowingly adding: “Now it’s a lot of work when you have a big tent, right? But that’s the way we have a majority.”

While out of step with his national party on some issues, and written off by parts of the left as little better than a Republican, his politics are more complex, even confounding, than they appear at first glance.

He provided the deciding vote on two of the biggest liberal priorities of this era — blocking repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017 and on passage of the nearly $2 trillion stimulus bill this month — while also twice voting to convict an impeached president wildly popular in his home state.

And while he may admire Mr. Byrd’s dedication to Senate tradition, Mr. Manchin has not emulated his predecessor by leveraging his power to focus relentlessly on steering spending projects back to West Virginia.

When Mr. Manchin was holding out on a single amendment that was delaying passage of the stimulus bill, White House aides were perplexed because his price for supporting the measure was not additional money for his impoverished home state. His main request, West Wing officials said, was to pare back spending and consider Republican input that could have made the bill appear more moderate.

Mr. Manchin said President Biden warned him in a phone call that the progressive left in the House might balk if the bill were significantly trimmed. “I said, ‘Mr. President, all we’re trying to do is put some guard rails on this,’” he recalled.

He was less happy about Vice President Kamala Harris’s effort to nudge him on the legislation by making an appearance on a television affiliate in West Virginia to promote the bill without forewarning him. The clip went viral and, Mr. Manchin said, prompted cleanup conversations with Mr. Biden and the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain.

As for any pressure that he may feel on the filibuster, Mr. Manchin said he had reminded Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, of how essential he was to providing Democrats a majority.

He said he had told Mr. Schumer, “I know one thing, Chuck, you wouldn’t have this problem at all if I wasn’t here.”

He is not the only impediment to the sort of expansive liberal agenda preferred by many congressional Democrats or even the only one still defending the filibuster. Other Senate Democrats, including Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, also share his reluctance.

Yet none are as eager as Mr. Manchin to restore a bygone day of collegiality. And perhaps, more to the point, none are as happy as him to talk about the need to do so as he navigates representing a once-heavily Democratic state that had been shifting to the G.O.P. even before Mr. Trump arrived on the scene.

He crossed the aisle last year to endorse his closest Republican ally, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and is already co-hosting bipartisan lunches with her. He is plotting the post-pandemic restoration of his pizza-and-beer parties on the boat he calls home while in Washington. (It’s called “Almost Heaven,” the opening lyric to John Denver’s ode to West Virginia.)

Although some of his colleagues relish the ideologically-charged prime-time cable news programs, Mr. Manchin prefers another Washington institution that also flourished in less-polarized times: the Sunday morning show.

In the fashion of many former governors who grow exasperated with Washington’s glacial pace, at times he can barely contain his impatience. He’s repeatedly mused about leaving the Senate and trying to reclaim his old job in Charleston.

But those who know Mr. Manchin well believe he likes the attention that he receives in the capital, the same as he did as a signal-caller in Farmington, W.V., where he grew up near Nick Saban, the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama and a lifelong friend of Mr. Manchin.

“You’re in the hot seat when you’re a quarterback, but it’s pretty satisfying when you make progress,” said Nick Casey, a Manchin ally and former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party. Mr. Casey said the senator, who sustained an injury that cut short his playing days, was “the greatest QB who never got to start at West Virginia University — just ask him.”

Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, W.V., who served with Mr. Manchin in the state legislature, said: “This is the closest he has been to how he could be as governor, actually driving the agenda, pulling people together.’’

It’s the last part that most animates the senator. Happily bantering with reporters as he positions himself as a lonely, if well-covered, voice for comity, he shifts questions from policy to process.

“Why don’t you ask people when was the last time they took time to talk to some of the people on this side?” Mr. Manchin told a CNN reporter this week. “Try to convince them, or work with them. Have you had dinner with them? Have you had a lunch with them? Have you had a cup of coffee with them? Try something.”

A number of anti-filibuster Senate Democrats, though, are more focused on what Mr. Manchin’s support of the “talking filibuster” could portend.

“I think that gives us a lot of room for discussion,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, adopting a glass-is-half-full perspective.

What does seem clear is that Mr. Manchin is not going to switch parties.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, although we’d welcome him with open arms,” said Ms. Collins, who has tried in the past to persuade her friend to join Republicans.

It’s not difficult to see why Mr. Manchin remains in his forefathers’ party. A Catholic of Italian descent, he sought John F. Kennedy’s desk when he arrived in the Senate, displays a picture of the slain president in his office lobby and can recall hearing that Massachusetts accent in his kitchen when Kennedy’s brothers came to his parents’ house during the West Virginia primary in 1960.

“Joe reminds me a lot of the old conservative Democrats in Texas,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “They were born Democrats. They’re going to die Democrats.”

As for the filibuster, Mr. Coons, who was sworn in alongside Mr. Manchin in 2010, said liberals shouldn’t get their hopes up.

Recalling a conversation with somebody who knows Mr. Manchin well, Mr. Coons said this person told him: “If the ghost of Robert Byrd came back to life and said the future of West Virginia itself is on the line he might … think about it.”

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C.D.C. Funding Gun Violence Research For First Time in Decades

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That was the argument he used to help persuade Congress to appropriate money for gun violence research in 2019. The research itself was never banned outright, and in 2013, weeks after the massacre that killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Barack Obama directed the C.D.C. to reconsider funding studies on gun violence.

The agency commissioned a report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council outlining priorities, but little changed. By 2019, after Democrats reclaimed the House, liberal organizations like MoveOn.org were petitioning Congress to repeal the Dickey Amendment. Nearly every House Democrat signed on.

But Dr. Rosenberg argued it should remain intact, to “provide cover for Republicans and gun-loving Democrats who can put money into the science and tell their constituents, ‘This is not money for gun control.’ ”

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who chaired the House subcommittee that oversees the C.D.C.’s budget at the time, said she put $50 million into the appropriations bill that year, but the Senate, controlled by Republicans, eliminated it. The two chambers agreed on $25 million as a compromise, but she said she hoped to double the funding this year.

Dr. Naik-Mathuria, the Houston trauma surgeon, said she would like to see Washington address the problem of gun violence as a matter of injury prevention, not politics. She began researching methods to reduce gun violence about six years ago, she said, after seeing “kids come in dead because they shot themselves in the head when they found a gun at home.”

Her current study is aimed at determining risk factors for gun violence for children and adults, and her past work has led to some changes in medical practice, she said.

Pediatricians in Texas, she said, are hesitant to talk about gun safety out of concern that “it would anger parents or become political.” So she and her group made a broader safety video that tucked in messages about gun safety — like keeping guns locked and stored — with tips like how to keep children away from poison.

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Who Are Gavin Newsom’s Enemies?

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There’s still time for a lot to change: If the organizers of the recall effort reach the signature threshold, the vote to recall Mr. Newsom and to choose his successor — both would be done on a single ballot — probably wouldn’t occur until near the end of the year.

That recall effort is being led by Orrin Heatlie, a conservative and a former sergeant in the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, who as recently as last year shared anti-vaccination and anti-L.G.B.T.Q. views online. But the endeavor has the backing of a number of deep-pocketed political action committees, most of them right-leaning.

Randy Economy, a political consultant and talk-radio host, serves as the lead adviser to Recall Gavin Newsom, the group organizing the effort. He said the governor’s behavior and demeanor had made the recall necessary. “It’s because of Gavin Newsom himself, and the way he conducts himself every day since he’s become governor,” Mr. Economy said in an interview. “It’s all been more about his image and self-aggrandizing, as opposed to fixing the problems.”

Mr. Newsom’s approval rating isn’t nearly as low as Gov. Gray Davis’s was in 2003, when voters ousted him in a recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger, running as a moderate Republican, was the beneficiary of that effort, winning the recall election and going on to serve as governor for more than seven years.

California politics are different — and decidedly more Democratic — than they were 18 years ago. Democrats now have a 2-to-1 advantage in terms of voter registration across the state. Just because there is a Republican-led effort does not mean that a Republican will be the one to ultimately benefit. Mr. Economy, who volunteered in 2016 for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign but has also worked for Democrats in the past, insisted that his team’s goal was not partisan in nature.

“Our job is not to pick the next governor; our job is to make sure that this governor’s recalled and removed from office,” he said.

The state is light on prominent (let alone popular) G.O.P. politicians, and some ambitious Democrats already appear ready to run through the open door. All of which points to a possible irony: Even if it were to become only the second successful recall effort in California history, the push — led by conservative interests — could ultimately lift up another Democrat, possibly one to the left of Mr. Newsom.

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