Mar 7, 2023

Trump dominates at CPAC.

Trump speaking at CPAC. Screenshot: NBC News
Trump speaking at CPAC. Screenshot: NBC News

Plus, do liberals or conservatives unsubscribe more?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

Are you new here? Get free emails to your inbox daily. Would you rather listen? You can find our podcast here.

Todays' read: 12 minutes.

We're covering Trump's dominance at CPAC, his speech, and the reactions to it from the right and left. Plus, a reader question about whether liberal or conservative readers are more likely to unsubscribe from Tangle. 


One of the most common questions I get in Tangle is "can you do more international news?" or "what about a Tangle for Country X?" While we focus primarily on politics in the United States, I am thrilled to announce a new partnership with DailyChatter, an international news organization built in the ethos of Tangle. It's the most neutral, even-handed international round-up I've found, and one of the first reads for me every morning. You can try it for 2 weeks for free, and it's just $29.95 a year after that. 84% of all users who try DailyChatter for free stick around after their trial. Sign up here.

Quick hits.

  1. Washington D.C.'s city council withdrew legislation to change its criminal code before the Senate voted to block it. (The withdrawal)
  2. Two of the four U.S. citizens who were kidnapped in northeastern Mexico have been found dead, while the other two were found alive. (The deaths)
  3. Authorities in Atlanta charged 23 people, including a lawyer from the Southern Poverty Law Center, with domestic terrorism for recent attacks on police. (The arrests)
  4. After a second train derailment in Ohio, Norfolk Southern Railway has released a new six-point safety plan, including the deployment of acoustic bearing detectors along train tracks. (The plan)
  5. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is paying $3.15 million to settle a lawsuit with the Justice Department over his undeclared foreign bank accounts. (The settlement)

Today's topic.

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Over the weekend, former President Donald Trump headlined the annual conference hosted this year in National Harbor, Maryland. CPAC has traditionally been a meeting ground for conservative leaders and presumptive presidential contenders. This year, the three-day conference was largely centered around Trump, with many of his potential challengers — like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence — not in attendance.

During a nearly two hour address to attendees, Trump promised to "finish" what he started, and laid out one of the most cohesive visions yet for what a second term in office might look like. He promised to massively increase border patrol spending and deportations, called for one day of voting with paper ballots, promised to fight China's growing power, and repeatedly claimed that he won the 2020 election "by a lot."

He also pledged to keep social security benefits as they are, warned of World War III, criticized President Biden's handling of the war in Ukraine, and said he would bring an end to the war if he became president. The day before the speech, Trump released a four-minute campaign video in which he promised to build 10 new "freedom cities" on federal lands that included flying cars, and pledged to encourage a baby boom by giving money to new parents called "baby bonuses." He reiterated those promises during his CPAC keynote address.

Throughout his Saturday speech, Trump promised to defend his supporters and seek out vengeance for how they were wronged during his presidency.

“In 2016, I declared: I am your voice,” he said. “Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution."

Trump, though not naming his potential challengers, criticized establishment Republicans for once again trying to prevent his ascendent candidacy.

"We had a Republican Party that was ruled by freaks, neocons, globalists, open border zealots, and fools, but we are never going back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove, and Jeb Bush,” Trump said. “People are tired of RINOs and globalists. They want to see America First."

There was no mistaking the decidedly pro-Trump crowd in attendance. Vivek Ramaswamy, a new challenger to Trump and the author behind the book Woke, Inc., deviated from prepared remarks and opted not to criticize Trump as he'd planned. Nikki Haley, who also formally entered the race, delivered her own speech without much tension, but was later heckled by Trump supporters as she exited the stage.

In a straw poll of attendees, Trump won by a landslide, with 62% of the vote. The next closest was DeSantis, who got 20% of the vote. In a surprising twist, Perry Johnson, a Michigan millionaire and failed gubernatorial candidate who announced his presidential run last week, won 5% support — more than Haley and Ramaswamy.

Last week, Emerson College released a national poll of Republican primary voters which had Trump 30 points ahead of DeSantis. While Trump was at CPAC, DeSantis attended a gathering of Republican donors in Florida that was hosted by the Club for Growth. Fox News was also notably absent from CPAC.

You can read a transcript of Trump's address here.

Today, we're going to take a look at some reactions to CPAC from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left mocked CPAC and Trump for lacking their usual energy.
  • Some said Trump's speech was still dangerous, and a reminder of why he shouldn't be president.
  • Others criticized the media and some Republicans for continuing to normalize Trump.

In Vanity Fair, Molly Jong-Fast said a "diminished" Trump was still dangerous.

"Photos of half-empty rooms haunted the four-day event, which failed to draw expected GOP candidate and Fox News number one draft pick Ron DeSantis or former Vice President Mike Pence—both of whom appeared at the competing Club For Growth retreat," she wrote. "Also missing from CPAC: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, and Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin to name a few. Meanwhile, MAGA favorites Donald Trump Jr., Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Marjorie Taylor Greene spoke to sparsely attended events. Still, just like dismissing Trump, one dismisses CPAC at one’s own peril.

"Some of the GOP’s loudest digital warriors and far-right pundits were busy workshopping talking points at panels and in speeches that could eventually make it to Fox News primetime or a Jim Jordan-led House panel... In wannabe strongman fashion, the former president portrayed himself as the crowd’s weapon against their perceived enemies. 'I am your warrior. I am your justice, and for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution,' Trump said in a ‘wildly dishonest,’  90-plus minute speech... Even Utah Republican Mitt Romney apparently sees 'his party’s slide toward authoritarianism and what role he may have played in empowering the extreme forces within the GOP.' Of course, the Romneys of the party aren’t welcome at CPAC, which overwhelmingly backed Trump in this year’s straw poll, and the GOP base could very well make Trump the 2024 nominee."

John Hendrickson wrote that Trump is beginning his "final battle."

"Former president Donald Trump gripped the CPAC lectern as he workshopped a new sales pitch: 'I stand here today, and I’m the only candidate who can make this promise: I will prevent—and very easily—World War III.' (Wild applause.) 'And you’re gonna have World War III, by the way.' (Confused applause.) It was just one in a string of ominous sentences that the 45th president offered tonight during his nearly two-hour headlining speech at the annual conservative conference, which for years prided itself on its ties to Ronald Reagan but is now wholly intertwined with Trumpism, if little else. Yet even amid cultish devotion, Trump seemed bored, listless, and unanimated as he spoke to a sprawling hotel ballroom that was only three-quarters full.

"This was only Trump’s fourth public event since he officially entered the 2024 race last fall. Rather than lay out his vision for America, he found a mess of topics about which to complain. The White House, Trump said, 'wasn’t the easiest building to live in.' He opined that 'illegal immigrants come in, and we house them in the Waldorf Astoria.' He characterized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as a 'China-loving politician' and sounded legitimately disappointed when saying, 'My wonderful travel ban is gone.' ... It was a strange and lackluster conference—more of a '1 a.m. at the party' vibe than 'the greatest political movement in the history of our country' that Trump invoked tonight. Perhaps, years from now, 2023 will be remembered as 'the last gasp of CPAC.'"

In The Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin said timid media and timid Republicans are once again normalizing Trump.

"Apparently, neither the media nor supposedly sober Republicans have learned anything from the past. Trump gave a bonkers speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, musing about Russia blowing up NATO headquarters, claiming President Biden had taken the border wall and 'put it in a hiding area,' and telling the crowd, 'I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution.' We do not get headlines acknowledging this is unhinged. Instead, we get from the New York Times: 'Trump Says He Would Stay in 2024 Race if Indicted.'... Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) on 'This Week' wouldn’t rule out supporting a nominee indicted on a felony charge that involved overthrowing the 2020 election results.

"From the coverage, you would never understand how incoherent [Trump] sounds, how far divorced his statements are from reality, and how entirely abnormal this all is. Talk about burying the lead," Rubin wrote. "This spectacle is equal parts infuriating and pathetic. Here are Republicans, some of whom are considering runs for the presidency, who somehow expect to get through a campaign without mentioning the single most disqualifying thing about the leader in the race (other than his mental unfitness): He betrayed the country. Such timidity is itself disqualifying for someone seeking the presidency. If these candidates cannot stand up to an ex-president who is currently devoid of power, how can we expect them to defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic?"

What the right is saying.

  • The right is divided on Trump, with some praising his speech as a "return" and others criticizing his never-ending grievances.
  • Some wondered if Trump was finally refocused on what might win him an election.
  • Others say the CPAC poll is not meaningful, and he is far from what the GOP needs.

In PJ Media, Stephen Kruiser said Trump is "hitting the right notes" again.

"I really did like a lot of what Trump said. For example: 'I am your warrior, I am your justice, and for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution,' Trump said. 'I will totally obliterate the deep state.' That’s not just what the base needs to hear; that’s what the country needs," Kruiser wrote. "I wonder if he’s gotten a new speechwriter in the last month because that kind of stuff is gold. I’m even willing to get a little amnesia about Trump’s less-than-stellar efforts to drain the swamp and 'obliterate the deep state' during his first term. He left a lot of people in positions of power that the deep state then actively used to work against him in 2020. Frequent readers of mine know how often I’ve lamented the fact that he didn’t gut the FBI.

"Last month I wrote that I wanted the Trump I like to come back. Reading excerpts from this speech almost made me wish that I’d gone to CPAC. Almost. Over at Townhall, Schlichter’s latest column says that Trump has been on a roll the last couple of weeks, which is true. It all began with his trip to East Palestine, Ohio, which Kurt referred to as ‘the best day of Donald Trump’s ex-presidency.’ He connected with people who desperately wanted to know that someone cared about their predicament, and he shamed this clown car administration into finally at least going through the motions. More importantly, Kurt writes that Trump avoided talking about DeSantis in his speech. That’s a relief. His unprovoked attacks on the Florida governor in recent months have made him look frightened and weak. Trump needs to be spitting fire, not tossing out pathetic playground digs. This was a nice start.”

In The Washington Post, Henry Olsen said Trump winning the CPAC poll "doesn't mean what you think."

"Former president Donald Trump’s supporters are touting his victory in the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll as yet more proof that their man is unstoppable. History, however, suggests otherwise... This seemingly good news is a historic harbinger of defeat," he wrote. "The CPAC straw poll has been conducted regularly for decades. The winner of the poll conducted in the year just before a presidential election in which there is no Republican incumbent has always gone on to lose the primary contest. Some losers do well before they drop out — take Jack Kemp in 1987 and Mitt Romney in 2007. Others become answers to trivia questions... the CPAC pre-election year straw poll has a perfect record in prognosticating primary defeat by the time the actual voting begins.

"Perhaps past won’t be prologue. But Trump’s CPAC speech and a brief video announcing a new policy agenda gave his foes a lot of targets to shoot at. His bizarre video started with an announcement that his next administration would promote building 10 'Freedom Cities.' Since roughly a third of the land mass of the United States is owned by the federal government, Trump said, it was time to start building 'new cities in America again' — and apparently putting the federal government in charge of nationwide municipal planning and development. Do conservatives really want that? ... Holding on to the type of people who would travel hundreds of miles and pay hundreds of dollars to hear him at CPAC is not his challenge. Trump’s challenge is holding on to the less devoted, the people who still like him but aren’t 100-percent sold."

In Townhall, Kurt Schlichter praised Trump's "good couple weeks."

"If CPAC 2023 proved anything, it was that Donald Trump still has his dedicated fans... They lined up and waited for hours to see him speak again, and he delivered again — his never-ending speech (heavy on policy but DeSantis-free) was generally well-received. Even the DeSantis-curious qualified their moving-on with respect for the accomplishments of Trump’s first three years and agreed that the Florida governor should have shown up and thrown down," Schlichter wrote. "Combine all that with a triumphant spin through East Palestine (the best day of Donald Trump’s ex-presidency) and at least some surging poll numbers, and it's been a pretty good couple weeks for the Bad Orange Man.

"But success at the conservative summit is not necessarily the same as success out in the general election, or even out in the Republican primary. CPAC was a little smaller this year  volume-wise, probably due to being back in DC and the Biden economy, but the dedicated base folks were there," he wrote. "There was very little dooming and a lot of excitement over the primary. The enemy regime media, which came in for plenty of contempt, will try and have you think that it was sparsely attended (there were still a ton of people) so the conservative movement is therefore broken and demoralized... This race is not done, not by a long shot, and it is not guaranteed that we will see Nominee Trump 3.0. But it is equally clear that we could. His support is strong."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. If you're a subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

  • Nothing about Trump's 2024 candidacy is normal, obviously.
  • This first look had some new elements, and a lot of old tunes.
  • Trump should still be the presumptive favorite to win the 2024 nomination.

There's no easy way to talk about former President Donald Trump. For his longtime supporters, like the ones at CPAC, he will always be a victim of the “deep state,” a stolen election, and a corrupt press, and any opinion critical of him is automatically disqualified. For most of the people who didn't vote for him, he is somewhere between a clownish criminal buffoon and one of the greatest threats to American democracy we've ever lived through, and even writing about him "normalizes" him, while praising anything he's done is heresy.

Of course, nothing about Trump or his campaign is or will be normal. How could it be? He is a twice-impeached former president who has refused to accept that he lost in 2020 and is under multiple investigations in multiple jurisdictions for several different criminal allegations. We've never seen anything like him. He is also effectively bifurcating one of the major political parties and campaigning on a promise to gut the federal agencies he'll be in charge of if he wins.

He is hated by many of the most powerful people in his own party and he hates them back. He is loathed by a press that desperately needs him for their bottom lines. And he has effectively proven his original campaign thesis — that nothing he could do will ever cost him the support of roughly one-third of the country.

So what’s going to give in 2024? I have no idea. This was our first real look at Trump 2024 and I left feeling mostly confounded. As usual, there were elements of his speech that were resonant. He bragged of being the only president in the modern era not to start a new war. He offered actual policy ideas the country needs, like "baby bonuses" to encourage population growth (it sounds a lot like the bipartisan Child Tax Credit that recently died on the vine). He took up new initiatives, like building new cities, lowering the cost of living, and protecting Social Security. He played old tunes, like going full throttle on restricting immigration and banning "transgender insanity from our military" and "critical race theory."

But the darkness was acute. His speech was, in many ways, Biblical. It was a call-to-arms for a “final battle”, one last fight before the "evil" won; a closing argument for destroying the liberals, the marxists, the communists, the thugs. One last swing to defeat "the sinister forces trying to kill America," as he put it. This, of course, has always been the hypocrisy of Trump. He simultaneously promises to unite the country and restore it to greatness, but also to destroy anyone who doesn't support him. Which, you know, is now over half of the adult population.

And, as usual, his grievances were peppered with truths and lies. The election was not stolen from him, but the media did make mistake after mistake in the Trump-Russia story. Yes, the Hunter Biden tale was censored and ignored by social media companies and some reporters, but no, he did not "complete the border wall" or oversee the "greatest economy" in American history. He told lots of lies and exaggerated lots of partly true things, as is typical, and also offered elements of hope. It was, in essence, peak Trump. The riffing, the boasting, the anger, the promise of a return to an idealized best version of the country. It was all the things that make his supporters love him and his detractors hate him.

It's hard to imagine us as already "in" the 2024 election cycle, but this did seem like a starting gun. The CPAC poll is effectively meaningless to me. Not only has it never been predictive, but the event itself has basically turned into a Trump rally. A lot of people seem to think CPAC is somehow representative of the "base," but it's really not. It’s an expensive event full of political activists with tickets that can cost thousands of dollars. It’s not on the same level as a donor retreat, but it's not far off.

The actual good news for Trump is his national polling, which seems to be holding steady and at times improving. As the media digs in against him, and the Republican establishment doubles down, he'll only get stronger. The big remaining question is when DeSantis will officially jump in, and who he can win over when he does. It will be a battle of narrative vs. legislative achievement, and I think it’s still an open question of which direction the party will go.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Who do you get more threats of cancellation from, your left or right readers?

— Jon from Palatine, Illinois

Tangle: I've been asked this question a few times before. Unfortunately, it's hard for me to say. I don't have any data tracking this, and a lot of people will just unsubscribe or cancel paying subscriptions without saying anything. The information I do have is basically my memory and day-to-day impression, which is based solely on the readers who write in to tell me they have canceled, are going to cancel, or are thinking about canceling.

Based on that biased impression, I'd say it is a generally even split. A lot of cancellation trends are circumstantial. During the Trump administration, I think it was slightly more left. During the Biden administration, it has probably been slightly more right. An edition like today will prompt some people on the right to unsubscribe because I am criticizing Trump or saying the election wasn't stolen. It will also prompt some people on the left to unsubscribe because I'm "normalizing" Trump or "giving him oxygen" or "amplifying his claims." This is the nature of the beast.

I will say, based on the emails I get, people unsubscribe for many different reasons. Folks on the left tend to unsubscribe because they are offended by something I wrote, or think I'm a "closet Republican," or believe I'm spreading "misinformation." Folks on the right tend to unsubscribe because they think I'm "biased," because I say something unkind about Trump, or for moderate or lefty takes I have on trans issues or race.

I think my left-leaning readers tend to view the sharing of ideas they don't like as dangerous, while my right-leaning readers tend to be more suspicious and intolerant of criticism of their positions. To put it differently: I could write a whole issue criticizing a mainstream liberal view and will lose very few left-leaning followers, but if I write an edition praising a right-leaning view they'll leave en masse. Many conservative readers I have, on the other hand, seem to be far more offended when I criticize their positions than they are when I express support for something many liberals believe.

It's anecdotal, but it’s a pattern I've noticed.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

President Biden released an opinion piece in The New York Times that lays out his plan to "extend Medicare for another generation." The op-ed came alongside a new proposal to raise taxes on Americans making more than $400,000 and reduce what Medicare pays for prescription drugs in order to make sure the program is funded for the next two decades. "The budget I am releasing this week will make the Medicare trust fund solvent beyond 2050 without cutting a penny in benefits. In fact, we can get better value, making sure Americans receive better care for the money they pay into Medicare," Biden wrote. The New York Times has his plan.


  • 43.3%. Donald Trump's favorability rating among all Americans right now.
  • 52.2%. Donald Trump's unfavorability rating among all Americans right now.
  • 43.8%. Ron DeSantis's favorability rating among all Americans right now.
  • 35.6%. Ron DeSantis's unfavorability rating among all Americans right now.
  • 55%. The percentage of the GOP vote Trump wins in a hypothetical 10-way Republican primary, according to a new Emerson College poll.
  • 25%. The percentage of the GOP vote DeSantis wins in a hypothetical 10-way Republican primary, according to a new Emerson College poll.
  • 8%. The percentage of the GOP vote Mike Pence wins in a hypothetical 10-way Republican primary, according to a new Emerson College poll.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we asked "What should America do?" in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter: The police clashes in Atlanta.
  • Home rule rules: In Monday's poll, 82.7% of Tangle readers said Congress should not block the changes D.C. made to its criminal code.
  • Nothing to do with politics: Earth's innermost layer is apparently a 400-mile-wide ball of iron.
  • Take the poll: Who do you think will win the Republican primary? Let us know.

Have a nice day.

If you are looking for a good tip, you might consider moving to Cleveland, Ohio. In a new study on the best tipping cities in America, Cleveland came out on top, with an average restaurant tipping rate of 20.6%. Denver came in second with 19.8%, and Salt Lake City, Utah, was in third with 19.6%. Meanwhile, Delaware topped the best tipping states (with an average of 21.8%) followed by Indiana (20.8%) and then Wyoming (20.8%). You can check out the city data here and the state data here. And don't forget to tip your server!

Don't forget...

We have a small team, no investors, and — because we don't use sensationalist, divisive, or misleading narratives — a harder time getting people's attention.

In order to spread the word about our work, we rely heavily on readers like you. Here are some ways to help us...

📣  Share Tangle on Twitter here, Facebook here, or LinkedIn here.

💵  If you like our newsletter, drop some love in our tip jar.

🎉 Want to reach 55,000 people? Fill out this form to advertise with us.

😄 Share and every time someone signs up at that URL, we'll donate $1 to charity.

📫  Forward this to a friend and tell them to subscribe (hint: it's here).

🎧  Rather listen? Check out our podcast here.

🛍  Love clothes, stickers and mugs? Go to our merch store!

Subscribe to Tangle

Join 100,000+ people getting Tangle directly to their inbox!

Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.