Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who opened his remarks with a joke about his much-criticized trip to a Cancún resort, cast conservatives as Jedi “rebels” against the “rigid conformity” of the socialist left — a call to arms at an event steeped in complaints of cultural victimhood. This year’s conference is titled “America Uncanceled.”
But Mr. Cruz also had a message for members of his own party.
“There’s a whole lot of voices in Washington that want to just erase the past four years, want to go back to the world before,” he said. “Let me tell ya right now: Donald J. Trump ain’t goin’ anywhere.”
Josh Hawley, a junior senator from Missouri, after defending his efforts to contest the election results as “taking a stand,” proclaimed a “new nationalism” that included breaking up technology companies, standing up to China and tightening borders. The “oligarchs” and “corporate media,” he said, want to divide Americans with “lies” like systemic racism. Hours before his speech, Mr. Hawley announced legislation requiring a $15 minimum wage for corporations with revenues over $1 billion.
None of the men, it’s worth noting, made any reference to Mr. Biden, a sign that the party continues to lack any cohesive line of attack against the new administration.
But what was equally striking is how far the speeches differed from traditional Republican ideology. A party that has defined itself as defenders of the free market now believes big technology companies wield too much power and the government needs to put more restrictions in place. Concerns about interventionism abroad have replaced hawkish doctrine as the driving foreign policy force. Nativism has gone mainstream and the politics of cultural grievance, focused heavily around race, dominate among conservatives that once delighted in mocking sensitive liberal “snowflakes.”
Of course, some of this rhetoric isn’t quite accurate. Although pandemic rules vary across the country, stay-at-home orders are lifted in all states and businesses are largely open in most. Even as Republicans fret about being “canceled” by liberals, local parties in recent weeks have censured members of Congress who strayed from overwhelming support of Mr. Trump.
But Mr. Cruz is correct that there are some Republicans who hope that the party will revert to its pre-Trump policies and rhetoric. After watching the speeches at CPAC, it’s hard to imagine how the party could have once rally around a fiscally conservative, hawkish on foreign policy Republican like Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, their 2012 nominee.