Image by Terry Sirrell
Sporting a Donald Trump T-shirt and a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, he stood up during a session at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March and indignantly exclaimed that “illegals” are voting in the United States. He told of seeing a woman at a bank who was “illegal as can be,” describing how he watched the bank teller return the woman’s driver’s license to her after she completed her transaction.
The session, part of the four-day CPAC held in Oxon Hill, Maryland, was titled, “The Latino Vote: The Beginning or the End of the Conservative Movement.” Its purpose was to promote ways to bring more Latinos into the fold. It was one of two training sessions taught by Mike Madrid, a Latino Republican political consultant from California. The other was called, “Talking to Minority Voters: Making the Case for Conservatives Nationally.” The two talks together filled seventy-five minutes of convention time.
In each of his talks, Madrid presented data to show that the United States is becoming more ethnically diverse. To remain relevant as a party, he argued, Republicans must appeal to a broader American electorate. But Madrid’s message was met with some resistance from the several dozen people who came to hear him speak.
One audience member proposed restricting immigration as an alternative to appealing to Latino voters, arguing that if states had fewer Latinos in them overall, there would be fewer people disproportionately predisposed to vote for Democrats. And then there was the man with the Trump wear fulminating about illegals.
Madrid cut off another audience member, a woman from Arizona, who had begun a rant about how she’d “seen the problems of illegal immigration firsthand,” and how the immigrants she’s observed espouse values that are contrary to America, family, and capitalism.
The Center for Immigration Studies, a purportedly nonpartisan think tank that the Southern Poverty Law Center has flagged as blatantly anti-immigrant, pushed back against Madrid’s message.
“If the GOP continues to be the pro-amnesty, high-immigration party,” the group proclaimed on its website, in specific response to Madrid’s presentation, “conservatism’s days are numbered.” The post agreed that it would be better to reduce the number of Latinos than to try appealing to them: “If four out of five Latinos are registering with the Democrats, perhaps less immigration would be in the interest of the Republican Party, no?”
The annual CPAC brings together professional politicians, media stars, grassroots activists, students, and enthusiasts of rightwing politics from around the country. This year, several thousand attendees convened to exchange ideas about moving a Republican agenda forward.
While convention organizers talked about recognizing America’s diversifying electorate as key to expanding the party’s appeal, the list of speakers at CPAC this year skewed heavily white and male. Among the few exceptions: Republican Congresswoman Mia Love from Utah, Republican Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina, and media mogul Michelle Malkin. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson also showed up. Donald Trump was notably absent, but his supporters turned out in force.
It wasn’t hard to find open displays of hostility toward Muslims, Latinos, blacks, and other minority groups. The event’s speakers included Dinesh D’Souza, conservative luminary and frequent opiner on black inferiority; political stuntster James O’Keefe, who has years of experience with white supremacist activism; and rightwing columnist and commentator Charles Hurt.
Hurt, whose outlets include The Washington Times, Fox News, and Breitbart News, is a vocal defender of Darren Wilson, the white Ferguson police officer who shot and killed unarmed, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown in 2014. Brown’s death sparked outrage and protests across the country, which Hurt, in The Washington Times, mocked, deriding protesters as “miscreants” and chiding that “unlike the merciful dead, these people don’t shut up.”
The CPAC exhibition hall featured a booth for The Enemies Within, a movie about communist infiltration inside the U.S. government. The movie, scheduled to come out in May, is being produced by Trevor Loudon, a New Zealander whose website disparages black people in the United States as criminals and immoral beings.
“Disproportionate arrests, incarcerations, and shootings of blacks should come as no surprise,” he declares in one article. “Their 40 percent representation among the prison population fairly reflects the proportion of crimes committed by blacks in the United States. This is not evidence of institutional racism, but rather a social pathology evident within the black community.”
White nationalism took the stage at CPAC in the form of the Center for Security Policy (CSP), which the Southern Poverty Law Center labels a hate group. In multiple sessions related to countering the threat from Islam, speakers from the group warned of Sharia law and painted the Obama Administration as beholden to a global network of Muslim terrorists.
CSP president Frank Gaffney presided over a panel called “The Global Jihad Movement in America and the Counterjihad Campaign.” Participating speakers included European nativist Paul Weston, who once declared, “I am a racist”; Lars Hedegaard, a Danish historian who warns that radical Islam is taking over the West; and Jim Hanson, who has pegged the Council on American-Islamic Relations as “part of a network of front groups tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The Gaffney-led session called for immigration bans, accused Attorney General Loretta Lynch of ceding U.S. legal sovereignty to the Muslim Brotherhood, and warned of a coming violent civil war in Europe and the United States between whites and nonwhites. Unlike in the CPAC sessions focused on minority voter outreach, the CSP anti-migration panel drew frequent applause and cheers from audience members.
Toward the end of the counterjihad panel, an audience member rose to speak at length on the national security threat posed by “political correctness,” which he said prevents us from adequately keeping Muslims out of the United States; he called for the United States to stop “namby-pambying around” with immigration policy. Another attendee complained that the “mainstream media” gave too much credibility to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a group that promotes understanding of Muslims, drawing much applause. He asked why Islam isn’t perceived as a more dangerous force in the media.
Gaffney agreed with the questioner’s analysis, explaining that the American media has fallen victim to a “civilization jihad.” He further contended that the Council on American-Islamic Relations is ultimately controlled by Hamas.
The Republican Party’s frontrunner, Donald Trump, is riding a wave of racial resentment all the way to the nominating convention in Cleveland in July. Trump has referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “murderers.” He has repeatedly called to halt immigration from Mexico with the assistance of a massive border wall. Interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters in December, Trump assured his supporters that “These are not people. Just remember that.” And his campaign rallies have been marked by incidents of violence.
Trump was scheduled to appear at CPAC, but bowed out at the last minute. Convention attendees had organized a walkout during Trump’s scheduled speech, on grounds that he is not conservative enough. Based on results of the CPAC straw poll, conservative activists prefer Ted Cruz to Trump anyway. Cruz has echoed Trump’s call to construct a barrier wall along the Mexican border. And the junior senator from Texas has mischaracterized the Black Lives Matter movement as “embracing and celebrating the murder of police officers.”
In the coming generation or two, white people will become a minority in the United States, a prospect that is much on the minds of Republican strategists and voters alike. White voters have been the backbone of the GOP for decades. No Democratic President has won the majority of the nation’s white vote since the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964.
But any party interested in winning elections must adapt to demographic changes. The Republican Party has no means to stop the so-called browning of America. It either must win brown votes, or, sooner or later, resign itself to irrelevance.
Republicans are torn about how to orient their party in a multiracial electoral reality. Party strategists like Mike Madrid urge fellow conservatives to face demographics and embrace America’s many colors and cultures. But judging from the rest of the CPAC, Madrid’s enlightened message will not be guiding the party—at least not this year. w
Joan Shipps is a journalist based in Washinton, D.C. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Alternet, American Bee Journal, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Hill, The Huffington Post, Inside Philanthropy, The Progressive, and Raw Story.
From the May issue of the magazine.