On Saturday, Politico profiled a handful of longtime conservatives who have criticized President Donald Trump — and the general consensus was that they feared hostility at this year’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
One such figure was former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), a Tea Party darling who has since attacked Trump for undermining the rule of law, and briefly mounted a presidential primary challenge. He attended CPAC as a guest of comedian Trevor Noah, and attendees who saw him seemed conflicted. “Torn between catching up with an old colleague and being singled out by observers as talking to a Trump foe, they split the difference — and instead kept asking him how his wife was doing,” wrote Tina Nguyen.
“It was really fascinating,” said Walsh’s political manager Lucy Caldwell. “I think it shows that we’re all human and that we want to have human connection, so you want to reach out to someone you were once close to. But it’s also everything that’s wrong with the enablers of Trump.”
Another Trump-skeptic conservative, former GOP communications director Tara Setmayer, was too afraid to attend at all. “The environment that’s been created now is so hostile to anyone that has a different view. And particularly those of us who have taken principled stands against Donald Trump as conservatives … I don’t think I would feel safe going to speak, or even walking through CPAC given my position against stuff.”
Such a sentiment has even been expressed by CPAC’s organizer, GOP mega-lobbyist Matt Schlapp, who remarked that he couldn’t guarantee the safety of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) at the conference after his vote to convict the president of abuse of power in the impeachment trial. Schlapp later walked back this statement.