As President Joe Biden establishes his presidency, conservatives — more specifically Republicans — are fighting to protect and promote the fundamental stances of former President Donald Trump that helped him win the White House in 2016. Two conferences in Orlando, Florida began the start of what could be called a “civil war” among conservative politics.
The Conservative Political Action Conference, hosted by the American Conservative Union, is an annual conservative conference attended by elected officials along with conservative political activists from across the country. The conference was established in 1973 alongside collaboration with Young America’s Foundation (YAF) with Ronald Reagan as keynote speaker in 1974. The values of CPAC are echoed by the ideological beliefs of the ACU. According to the organization’s website, the ACU “seeks to preserve and protect the values of life, liberty, and property for every American.” CPAC 2021 featured speakers like former President Trump, ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp, South Dakota Governor Krisiti Noem, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk.
The conference addressed the influence of Trump and his “America First” policies in the Republican Party after losing the 2020 election to Biden, the growth of outreach toward voters to create a “Big Tent” conservative movement, Big Tech censorship of conservative voices online, along with various other topics. The conference showcased its influence across the world with hosting CPAC conferences in other countries like Brazil, Australia, and Japan. CPAC 2021 outlined the “future of conservatism” and how the Republican Party has transformed into a political party for all people from all social, cultural, and economic backgrounds.
However, not all conservatives are convinced that the direction of CPAC is the true direction of the conservative movement post-Trump. Many on the right have criticized CPAC for cancelling the views and opinions of other conservative commentators, as well as calling out the corporate influence on conservatism and how “Conservative, Inc.” is destroying the core value of what made Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign successful in 2016.
Minutes away from CPAC, a new and fresh political action conference is taking place. AFPAC enters the political arena and serves as the answer to this “anti-establishment” conservatism that has never been challenged before.
The America First Political Action Conference, hosted by The America First Foundation, founded by “America First” host Nicholas J. Fuentes, is a pro-populist, pro-American Nationalist political foundation. According to the foundation’s website, its goals are to “educate, promote, and advocate for conservative values based on principles of American Nationalism, Christianity, and Traditionalism.” The foundation also promotes conservative values and ideas that cherish ideas like trade protectionism and anti-mass immigration. The event headlined speakers such as author Michelle Malkin, former BlazeTV host Jon Miller, political commentator Vincent James, and former congressman Steve King of Iowa, along with current congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona, and Fuentes.
The event criticized the status quo of the current mainstream conservative movement and how its “leaders” are compromising conservatism by redefining what it means to be a conservative by accepting stances that are considered “progressive.” In other words, AFPAC asks the fundamental question of what differentiates modern-day Republicans from Democrats when many in the Republican Party are caving toward social and economic issues that are championed by Democrats. AFPAC promised its audience to advocate for real and authentic “America First” candidates in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections. Fuentes, an active advocate and speaker for “Stop The Steal” rallies across the country in 2020 asked where was the GOP when Trump needed them most in efforts to contest and potentially overturn the 2020 election. Fuentes, at various “Stop The Steal” rallies, told crowds that he would help primary RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) that exist in the Republican Party. Many in this authentic America First movement have questioned mainstream conservative voices who have co-opted Trump’s populist, “America First” agenda and voiced concern to those advocating for policies that do not align with this political ideology.
Fuentes took shots at Republican candidate for Illinois’ 16th Congressional District, Catalina Lauf after she announced her bid against current Congressman Adam Kinzinger. Fuentes questioned her loyalty to the America First movement after she launched her campaign as an America First candidate according to the organization’s website. Fuentes warned his conservative audience to be aware of candidates in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections using the slogan “America First” to attract loyal Trump voters without explicitly stating what their policy positions are on issues like immigration and foreign relations. Lauf, a former candidate for Illinois’ 14th Congressional District and appointee to the Department of Commerce by Trump, never responded to Fuentes’ criticisms.
Conservative activist Justin Andrew of Volo expressed concerns for the future of the GOP. “I don’t understand why leaders in the conservative movement are pandering to other voting groups at the expense of our party’s core values through conservatism. Looking at the current demographics of our nation and voting trends among diverse voting groups, Republicans are wasting their time,” he said.
“I understand the reasons they are taking these actions, but ultimately it is going to hurt us in the long run. Instead they should be focused on addressing issues like healthcare and immigration, especially in a post-COVID America. Listening to the issues of blue-collar workers is how the conservative movement will thrive going forward. That’s why I left the conservative establishment line of thinking and found authenticity in the America First movement. I think when mainstream conservatives acknowledge us and stop ignoring our ideas at the direction of their donors and special interest groups, things will begin to change. We are the real grassroots movement.”
The big question that remains is will conservatives take a stand on their party’s messaging and fight for ideas they are passionate about and truly believe will protect the integrity of their values through America First, or will conservatives sit back and allow corporate influence to persuade voters? Which group will be victorious when the 2022 midterms arrive and when the 2024 election comes around? No one knows, but the stakes remain high. Whatever option conservative voters take, it is apparent that loyal supporters of Trump will do whatever it takes to make sure his true “America First” policy is active in the current conservative movement.