Bewildered Conservatives Greet a Fallen British Prime Minister

Bewildered Conservatives Greet a Fallen British Prime Minister

On Thursday, an ousted world leader went to a far-right political conference in the United States to rage about how they and the conservative movement were betrayed by enemies within.

No, it wasn’t Donald Trump. It was Liz Truss.

The former British prime minister who lasted just seven weeks in office spoke in a hotel conference room that was less than half full, sandwiched between a social conservative activist who insisted “there is no such thing” as transgender children and a far-right author who insists that the January 6 attack on the Capitol was “the biggest instance of police brutality” in the United States since the Civil Rights movement.

Needless to say, she was a long way from South West Norfolk.

Truss’s appearance was perhaps the most incongruous part of the four-day Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual event held in a resort hotel just outside Washington, D.C. The event had once been perhaps the premier conference for American conservatives. But its stature has gradually declined in recent years as it has come to be seen as a mere adjunct of Trumpism and, as its head, Matt Schlapp, has fended off allegations of sexual misconduct and financial mismanagement.

The result has been a gathering with an increasingly shabby and low rent vibe. An exhibition hall that once featured major corporate sponsors now has a January 6 themed electronic pinball game and sells vibrating boards that promise that users can lose weight simply by standing on them. A hotel once packed with attendees seemed half vacant as other conferences were held simultaneously — including one for an outsourcing company, a fitting companion for a conference that has increasingly outsourced its speakers from abroad.

Some of the other foreign speakers were already well known on the populist right. Newly elected president Javier Milei of Argentina was considered a major get for the event — and it’s almost impossible to hold a conservative gathering in the United States without former UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Truss was an entirely different creature.

Many had simply not heard of her. “Who is Liz Truss?” asked R. Gregg Keller, the former executive director of the group that hosts CPAC and a veteran Republican political operative. Mike Lindell, the pillow magnate turned election conspiracy theorist, was just as befuddled when asked about her appearance. “I didn’t know. …I’m focused on machines,” he said, as he continued on a diatribe about election fraud in the United States.

Matt Whitaker, the former acting U.S. attorney general under Trump, when asked to put Truss’s appearance at the event in perspective, said “the conservative movement is finding its role and organization worldwide. Donald Trump has motivated a lot of people to be attracted to his movement and translate into their own unique thing.”

When asked how Truss fits into that movement, he said “I don’t know. I have no idea.”

Even Clegg Ivey, who ran a King George III themed booth in the exhibition hall that compared Biden officials to the monarch overthrown by the American Revolution, couldn’t quite muster an opinion. “It’s not really for us to have a position on executives from other countries and other systems.”

When asked about the incongruity of his booth criticizing a deceased British monarch, he caveated, “that’s a very specific instance.”

There was some Truss skepticism, however. Attendees were widely circulating a piece by Raheem Kassam, an Anglo-American Steve Bannon ally that trashed her as too leftist for the venue. Joe Proenza, the political director for the socially conservative group American Principles Project, was befuddled at her attendance.

“Why are you here?” he asked rhetorically. “There’s literally nothing you share with conservatives in America, besides some vague tax policy agreements we might have. What are you doing here?” Proenza disdainfully added that Truss will likely be at the conference longer than she was in 10 Downing Street.

Truss spent her 15 minutes on stage warning that there were only 10 years left to save the West (which is incidentally the name of her upcoming book), while also deriding “wokenomics,” Joe Biden and “the usual suspects” in the media and the corporate world who undermined her during her brief stint as prime minister.

She ended with a call for Americans to elect Republicans “who aren’t going to cave into the establishment” and are willing to be unpopular with elites, even if it means “they don’t get invited to any dinner parties.”

Attendees seemed to appreciate her remarks. The room slowly grew more full as she talked and her ovation upon leaving the stage was louder than when she entered. Bryan Betancur, a Marylander wearing a QAnon shirt, said that the speech was “educational.”

“You get to learn a lot of things. For me as a conservative, it’s pretty inspirational,” he said. Betancur said he hadn’t heard of Truss before, although did know of several other former British prime ministers.

Gerri Poplin of New Jersey, who was wearing an American flag scarf and multiple pro-Trump buttons, thought Truss’s speech was “on the same parallel” and shared many of the same frustrations that she had with American politics. Poplin, who thought the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump, found similarities between what the former president experienced then and the struggles that Truss described on stage as she dealt with being undermined by the administrative state as well as what she called “CHINOS, conservatives in name only” — a nod to the American nomenclature of RINO, Republican in Name Only.

After her speech, Truss wandered up and down the hall of the event with a gaggle half composed of British reporters trying to ask her questions and half of American security guards trying to block them from doing so. Only a handful of attendees stopped her for selfies on her journey, which included a brief video interview with a conservative activist group that long pushed false claims of election fraud.

One request for a selfie came from Barbara Coward, a suburban Baltimore woman whose husband was British and thought it would be a good memento for her half-British children. Coward came away pleasantly impressed with the speech, although she was well aware both that Truss was “not prime minister for very long” and the British politician was hawking a book.

The other selfie request came from Sami Gold, a George Washington University student, who insisted to Truss that “I’m your biggest fan” as she walked by. He wasn’t, he later revealed. Instead, Gold just thought it would be neat to take a photo with a world leader and seeing her was part of the charm of showing up at CPAC.

“It’s 50 bucks for meeting some of the most insane people on Earth,” said Gold. “It’s great.”

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