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Trumpism Grips a Post-Policy G.O.P. as Traditional Conservatism Fades

“The future of the Republican Party depends on debating and advancing big ideas rooted in our belief in limited government constitutionalism,” said Representative Chip Roy of Texas, arguing that the party needed to orient itself around “the case for freeing the American people from the mandates, shutdowns, regulations and taxes pushed by a powerful government.”

Mr. Roy appeared on one of the few CPAC panels focused on government spending, once a central issue on the right, and used his time to plead with the audience. “There’s nothing more important right now than this,” he said. “We are allowing Washington, D.C., to take over our lives but we’re paying the bill.”

If those in the audience felt the same sense of urgency, they didn’t show it

In his remarks later in the day, Mr. Trump sought to explain “Trumpism” — “what it means is great deals,” he ventured — but his would-be heirs plainly recognize that the core of his appeal is more affect than agenda.

Beyond the former president, no two Republicans in attendance drew a more fervent response than Mr. DeSantis and Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, two former House members turned first-term governors.

Neither sketched out a new policy agenda or presented a fresh vision for a party that has won the national popular vote just once in over 30 years. Rather, they drew repeated ovations for what they share in common: a shared sense of victimhood over media criticism for their handling of the coronavirus crisis and a pugnacious contempt for public health experts who have urged more aggressive restrictions in their states.

“I don’t know if you agree with me, but Dr. Fauci is wrong a lot,” Ms. Noem said in her remarks, referring to the country’s top infectious disease expert. The statement brought attendees to their feet, even as she glossed over her state’s high mortality rate during the pandemic.


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