Dallas, Texas
Howdy from the Lone Star State, where Cockburn is braving 100-degree heat, overpriced IPAs and America First applause lines to bring you coverage of CPAC Texas.

The conservative conference has come to the Hilton Anatole in Dallas for the second year — and is once again headlined by former president Donald Trump, set to speak this evening. Appropriately, the hotel’s two bars are called “Media” and “Gossip,” as if they’d been purpose-built for your intrepid correspondent.

Cockburn managed to finagle his way into the $375-a-head Cattleman’s Ball for free on Friday night, where he sat at...

Dallas, Texas

Howdy from the Lone Star State, where Cockburn is braving 100-degree heat, overpriced IPAs and America First applause lines to bring you coverage of CPAC Texas.

The conservative conference has come to the Hilton Anatole in Dallas for the second year — and is once again headlined by former president Donald Trump, set to speak this evening. Appropriately, the hotel’s two bars are called “Media” and “Gossip,” as if they’d been purpose-built for your intrepid correspondent.

Cockburn managed to finagle his way into the $375-a-head Cattleman’s Ball for free on Friday night, where he sat at a table with a cadre of fellow hacks, chief among them John Fredericks, the “Godzilla of Truth.” Another radio host, Larry O’Connor, did a capable job compering, despite a largely disinterested crowd.

Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon then performed a live frog dissection, excruciatingly explaining a series of his satire site’s jokes and bleating about its Twitter suspension.

The keynote speaker, former Trump chief of staff Steve Bannon, was substantially more engaging, delivering perhaps the most charismatic address of the conference.

Clad in a black jacket, black collared shirt and black undershirt, Bannon opened on an optimistic beat by inviting newly confirmed GOP candidate for Arizona governor Kari Lake to stand.

“Kari Lake you’re not only a hero, you’re the future of this movement,” he said to a standing ovation.

Then his words took something of a gloomy turn. “We’re at war,” he said, before describing President Biden as an “illegitimate imposter” and declaring that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald J. Trump.” (It wasn’t.) He spoke damningly of the “$40 billion to Ukraine without a debate,” drawing a parallel with the “invasion from the southern border” by “Mexican cartels” pouring Chinese fentanyl into the US.

Later in his remarks, he praised MyPillow CEO and libel enthusiast Mike Lindell, for “putting his company on the line” in pursuit of his belief that the 2020 election was stolen overnight.

“We have a fourth branch of government that’s a leviathan,” Bannon said of the administrative state, before praising former Devin Nunes staffer and current children’s author Kash Patel: “He’ll be the head of the CIA in the second term.”

Talking up the diversity of the growing Republican coalition, Bannon said that African Americans and Hispanics were “not prepared to back a party that’s gonna be nothing but groomers.” And looking to the midterms, he pledged that “we’re gonna give them a democracy suppository on November 1.”

Bannon’s final target was perhaps less obvious. “We need to end the Federal Reserve,” he said in closing. “That central bank is going to be owned by one group: the American people.”

He was then joined by ACU president Matt Schlapp for a fireside chat, in which he claimed that “Donald J. Trump was providential — God worked through Trump.”

The afterparty through the ballroom was hosted by Bannon’s podcast War Room: Pandemic. Posting up at the free bar, Cockburn clocked former CNN contributor Jeffrey Lord cutting a rug with some much younger women. Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and Trump belle Kimberly Guilfoyle, who were spotted pregaming the ball at the Media bar, remained adequately lubricated throughout.

At the after-party’s denouement, Cockburn decamped to a “secret” apartment party which, in trademark CPAC fashion, consisted of about twelve people and no booze. “You want some cocaine?” a young female GOP staffer excitedly asked Cockburn. After politely declining and heading down the elevator, he settled in at the hotel lobby until the wee hours with a ramshackle crew of Republican operatives and a Michelob Ultra.

Bannon and Lindell have served as the twin stars of the conference’s media row, with large crowds gathering whenever they appeared on, respectively, Real America’s Voice and LINDELL TV. As well as his new TV venture, his pillow company and his new coffee company, Lindell is running “Frank Social,” his new Facebook competitor with the slogan “the voice of free speech.”

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Mike Lindell with a fan (The Spectator)

At the end of Thursday’s proceedings, beer in hand, Cockburn watched Lindell deliver a monologue, ranting about vote-counting machines in Texas and how only one attorney general gives him the time of day. He also pledged that there would be big revelations at his “Moment of Truth” conference later this month, in the surest sign yet that his election integrity efforts are spiraling into apocalypse cult territory. After he’d concluded, another LINDELL TV host grilled a guest about why the book Gender Queer should be banned. So much for the “voice of free speech,” Cockburn thought.

Meandering around the CPAC stalls proved fruitful for MAGA-celebrity sightings. “Oh, that’s what’s his name,” one woman said after China hawk Gordon G. Chang passed her by. “It’s amazing to me that I have not seen one Breitbart reporter,” another woman was overheard griping.

The most talked-about stand comes courtesy of #WalkAway, who have erected a fake jail cell where founder Brandon Straka sits in an orange jumpsuit. Attendees can pick up headphones and listen to sob-stories from jailed January 6 protesters. Devastatingly, Cockburn just missed the moment when Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene joined Straka in the cage. “She prayed with me for our nation,” Straka told the Daily Mail’s Rob Crilly. “Both sides of the aisle for all people and no, I thought it was a really beautiful, special moment.”

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Brandon Straka sits in a simulated jail cell (Getty)

In the arena, CPAC Texas has offered standard MAGApalooza fare. On Thursday, Fox News anchor Sean Hannity came out and tossed foam footballs to the excited crowd. “How did you miss that, it was in the bread basket…” he chided one guest who missed an easy catch. Senator Ted Cruz did his best impression of Sinbad, offering a stand-up set about inflation and how “AOC can’t afford fake handcuffs.”

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Senator Ted Cruz speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (Getty)

The media, perhaps unsurprisingly have been treated to the worst seats in the house, with a huge rider obstructing journos’ view of the stage. The press section is also, by Cockburn’s estimation, the only part of the conference where any people are wearing masks.

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The view from the media area (The Spectator)

True to Trumpian tradition, cussing on stage has been met with cheers and whoops, like when former ICE director Tom Homan mentioned the need to “fix this shit together” on immigration.

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Tom Homan, former acting ICE director, Representative Mayra Flores and Republican nominee for Arizona governor Kari Lake speak to Julio Rosas (Getty)

Even more intriguing was Kari Lake’s shot across Greg Abbott’s bow on the same panel, chaired by Cockburn’s pal Julio Rosas, when she denounced the Texas governor’s policy of busing illegal migrants to liberal cities as a “cute photo op.”

The crowd seems slightly older than your average CPAC — perhaps due to the fact that this event is taking place while colleges are on break. Nonetheless, the retirees milling around the Hilton Anatole appear to be having a whale of a time. “You know these guys basically just come here to swing, right?” a conservative operative joked to Cockburn.

Security has tightened on Saturday ahead of Donald Trump’s address at 5:30. There have been murmurs about whether the former president will announce his 2024 candidacy tonight. Cockburn is doubtful — it’s much likelier he flirts aloud with the idea before the adoring crowd. Watch this space though…