John Schnatter, the pizza magnate who in 2018 resigned as chairman of the Papa John’s franchise after using a racial slur in a comment about Black people during a conference call, mingled among the crowd, saying he was among those unfairly canceled. Senator Rick Scott of Florida warned of “woke, government-run everything.”
And former Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who in 2020 ran for the Democratic presidential nomination but has adopted right-wing positions and become a darling of conservative media, labeled the government a “secular theocracy” because of its efforts to fight misinformation.
Eight miles from CPAC, an even angrier right-wing gathering, the America First Political Action Conference, took place at another Orlando hotel with Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia as the main attraction and Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona appearing by video.
The commentator Nick Fuentes, head of the group that hosted the conference, said Mr. Putin had been compared to Hilter. He laughed and added: “They say it’s not a good thing.”
Mr. Fuentes, a white nationalist and Holocaust denier, runs what is known as the America First or “groyper” movement, which promotes a message that the nation is losing “its white demographic core.” Last month, Mr. Fuentes was subpoenaed by congressional investigators examining the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
At CPAC and beyond, focusing on the negative can be strategic as well as visceral. Polls show Republican voters have a more favorable view of Mr. Putin than of Mr. Biden, and one lesson of the backlash against the party holding the White House during the last four midterm elections is that an intense distaste for a president of the opposing party is more than enough to propel sweeping victories.
“The conservative movement is always evolving, and as it evolves and reacts to the radical ideas of the progressive left, the issues that really matter to people shift a little bit,” said Charlie Gerow, a Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania. “The one unifying factor for conservatives is Joe Biden and his henchmen out in the states.”