A former chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference was disturbed, but not exactly surprised, by the depths to which the annual event has sunk.
Mickey Edwards, a former GOP congressman from Oklahoma, noted in a new column for The Bulwark that the roots of the conservative movement's degradation extend back to the Ronald Reagan era, when he noticed as chair of CPAC and the American Conservative Union that fundraising materials became increasingly focused on culture war issues instead of political principles.
"These rants were early signs that the ideals of conservatism were being abandoned by those who claimed to be its greatest champions," Edwards wrote. "But I couldn't see that at the time; I simply deleted the social/cultural warfare lines, rewrote each piece in more traditional conservative terms, and moved on. These fights began to creep into Congress as well, the usual partisan squabbles over tax policy, defense spending, foreign policy, assistance programs, and budget levels joined by bitter and continuous partisan fights over social issues: abortion, gay rights, women's empowerment, etc."
Edwards eventually resigned from both groups in frustration over their new directions, and has watched that new brand of "populist and retrograde pseudo-conservatism" take over the Republican Party through a series of standard bearers such as Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and eventually Donald Trump.
"If someone had told me 40 years ago that CPAC attendees would raucously cheer a United States senator bragging about his effort to overturn a presidential election or brazenly worship a literal golden idol in the shape of a failed presidential candidate, I never would've believed them," Edwards wrote.
But that's exactly what happened over the weekend in Orlando.
"Trump is merely the loudest and crudest of an emerging army that calls itself conservative but has no interest in conserving the most important values of all, the constitutional guarantees of a democratic republic," Edwards wrote. "The drift from a coherent and defensible political perspective to an anti-egalitarian, anti-rule of law, anti-constitutional-republic form of delusion and craziness had been taking place for years, right under my nose."