At the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last year, American Conservative Union (the organization that hosts the conference) Executive Director Dan Schneider told attendees, “CPAC, we have been slapped in the face. There is a sinister organization that is trying to worm its way in, into our ranks.”
He was warning about the white nationalist “alt-right” movement that had been on the rise over the last year.
“They are anti-Semites, they are racists, they are sexists, they hate the Constitution, they hate free markets, they hate pluralism,” Schneider explained.
“We must not allow them to be normalized,” Schneider warned.
Yet, at CPAC 2018 on Thursday, Marion Le Pen, a rising star on the French far-right, spoke.
You might even say CPAC helped “normalize” her.
Le Pen’s Front National party was once led by her anti-Semitic grandfather, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Marion, who is the niece of current party leader Marine Le Pen, has reportedly rubbed shoulders with open white nationalists. American-style constitutional rights like freedom of speech and religion are not high on the Front National’s agenda. The party is definitely not free market. They hate pluralism.
Basically, everything CPAC attendees were supposed to fear about the alt-right last year, at least according to Schneider, is represented to one degree or another by Marion Le Pen. Full blown alt-right racists eagerly anticipated her CPAC speech. Alt-right-friendly outlets like Breitbart relished the reaction among the conservative establishment. Alt-right friendly writers like The Daily Caller’s Scott Greer defended the decision.
So, why did just one year after trying to make it perfectly clear that CPAC and the conservative movement would not be a home to the alt-right, did the conference invite a prominent figure of the European far-right, on which the alt-right movement in the U.S. primarily bases itself?
When white nationalist Richard Spencer was denied CPAC credentials last year and was even kicked out of the conference, American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp told Politico, “You are welcome to come down here, we will have civil conservation about things we disagree with but there are boundaries, one of those boundaries is having respect for people, people’s heritage, people’s race, and the alt-right is not a voice in the conservative movement.”
Defending hosting Le Pen this year, Schlapp said she was a “classical liberal,” which traditionally has been arguably a more properly descriptive label for most American conservatives and libertarians.
But she’s not a classical liberal.
This is very confusing. Because in defending Le Pen, Schlapp is now basically saying that race-based political leaders deserve a spot at the biggest conservative conference in the U.S. — but “having respect” for non-white peoples’ “heritage” and “race,” to paraphrase Schlapp, is not what the Front National is about.
This confusion didn’t start with CPAC.
But “back” from who? Political elites? Just draining the swamp, maybe? If so, sign me up as well. Most conservatives would agree.
But long time observers know that’s not what Le Pen truly means. That’s never been what the National Front means, primarily. It has always been first and foremost an anti-immigrant party. Donald Trump won in part by harping on anti-immigrant themes. CPAC this year echoes some of those same themes.
Some might recall that just four years ago, immigration restrictionist hardliners complained there was no room for them at CPAC. That’s how quickly the popular definition of “conservative” can change. Each year, CPAC is supposed to help reflect the current definition.
“We must not allow them to be normalized,” Dan Schneider said of the alt-right in 2017.
This year, by inviting Marion Le Pen, CPAC helped normalize the alt-right.