YYoung alligators swam in the water or lounged on man-made rocks as a waterfall cascaded nearby. “Alligators are mainly found in fresh water and in swamps and marches,” noted a nearby sign. “… Alligators are opportunistic feeders.”
The “Gator Springs” exhibit welcomed religious conservatives this week as they traversed the vast atrium of the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, to regroup after the Republicans’ loss of power in 2020 and test the first contenders for the presidential nomination in 2024.
After climbing an escalator, attendees of the Faith & Freedom Coalition annual meeting Road to Majority Conference met with a registration sign slapped with two additional tags: “Trump: Take America Back, 2024” and “Trump Store, Vendor Exhibits.”
Next to it was a T-shirt that read, “Jesus is my Savior. Trump is my president. “
This, along with a plethora of “Make America Great Again” (Maga) hats, made it clear that the unlikely faith of the Christian right in Trump has not been affected. For many, he is a martyr who can still be resurrected.
The vendor display turned out to be quite modest in what, despite the release of face masks and physical distancing, was a relatively low energy event. Interviews with a dozen attendees found widespread conviction that the 2020 election was stolen, support for tougher voting restrictions, and a reluctance to convict Trump supporters who stormed the United States Capitol on 6 January.
And the choice of Florida as the venue was no coincidence: its governor, Ron DeSantis, is seen as the heir apparent to Trump. Jonathan Riches, 42, of Tampa, wearing a red “Maga” cap and an “I ♥ Ron DeSantis” T-shirt, said: “I have fallen in love with DeSantis as much as with Trump. It would be nice if Trump hands the torch over to DeSantis. “
Riches: a right-wing activist with a reputation for litigation and spreading falsehoods – booed Mike Pence during his speech on Friday because of the former vice president’s refusal to overturn the election result; others in the room yelled “Traitor!” and they were escorted out.
“We feel like he abandoned Trump,” Riches explained. “We needed him to challenge the election. It does not represent our party. Now he’s trying to redeem himself, but we don’t want him. “
Attorney General William Barr and state election officials reported no significant voting irregularities, and judges rejected dozens of challenges. Yet Trump and his allies have continued to feed “the big lie” about a stolen election, denying Joe Biden’s legitimacy.
The chatter in the airy, carpeted hallways of the Road to Majority conference suggests that it has taken hold. Several attendees cited the increased use of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic as conducive to voter fraud, even though some states have used mail-in voting for years. They also backed the so-called “audits” being carried out in Arizona and elsewhere.
Shelley Villarreal, 56, a retired teacher from Houston, Texas, cited the work of Sidney Powell, a discredited attorney who was ridiculed for threatening to “free the Kraken.” She said: “Sidney Powell has very good statistics, data and facts. I trust she knows. “
Regarding the insurrection, Villarreal, wearing a red “Trump 2020” hat and a red “President Trump 2024” sweater, said: “Violence has no place in politics. However, I thought it was an emotional crowd and it just got out of control. I don’t think that was the plan; it happened in the heat of the moment. It was a reflection of how frustrated the public was with the election result. “
Television cameras captured Trump supporters violently attacking police, smashing windows, stealing property, carrying the Confederate flag and calling for Pence to be hanged. Five people lost their lives and Trump was charged a second time.
But Republicans and the right-wing media have recently pushed for a false flag conspiracy theory that the FBI orchestrated the attack. Glenn Romano, 50, an electrical engineer from Greensboro, North Carolina, said without any factual basis: “I think it was a staging. There have been reports from BLM [Black Lives Matter] leaders. Our media are completely anti-conservative. They are pushing the agenda of the left. “
A Tampa stock trader, identifying himself only as Greg A, openly supported the insurrection and compared it to the American Revolution. “1776 was the same because his government says that we are going to install a dictatorship,” said the 27-year-old. “People have no choice but to get up.”
He also made an evidence-free claim about Democrats: “They cheated to get to power. The choice was rigged. His mission is to turn America into communist shit. “
Others shared dismay over what they saw as Biden’s willingness to embrace a progressive agenda, including a major expansion of government. Michael Altman, 63, of Cape Coral, Florida, said: “I think the Biden administration is a disaster. He has gone too far to the left. He wants to detail our economy by increasing taxes. I thought Biden was going to be more moderate. “
Altman, who is retired from working in financial services, added: “There were some issues with the election. If it was enough to change the result, I don’t know. But they need to investigate voter fraud. It was worse than in the past. It could backfire against the Democrats one day. “
Trump, who turned 75 this week and resumes campaign rallies next Saturday in Ohio, has hinted that he could run for president again in 2024. Many of those who attended the Road to Majority conference pledged to support him if he does, though few wanted Pence to do so. his running mate again.
Altman said: “If Trump runs, he will definitely be the nominee. I would like you to; gets a bad rap from the press. He has a habit of saying things, but his policies were great. He got the shots out pretty quickly. It’s pretty sharp, but it gets you in trouble. “
But Kat Kerr, 70, a business owner wearing a Stars and Stripes stole and a “I don’t do demons” badge, insists the 45th president never lost.
“Trump is our president right now,” he said. “Eighty million Americans know it. You can’t steal a free country. “
Republicans in Washington have been unwilling to denounce Trump’s stolen election claim and voted against a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 attack. They seem eager to change the subject and focus their fire on what they call the Biden crisis.
Members of Congress who addressed the conference on Friday gave a wide margin to the 2020 election. One exception was Lindsey Graham, a senator from South Carolina, who said Trump lost by only 44,000 votes in the electoral college: “44,000 short votes and we can argue about being cheated and there were a lot of shenanigans, right?”
Speakers, including several potential candidates for 2024, highlighted the urgency of regaining the House of Representatives next year, but avoided saying that Trump should run two years later. Graham chose his words carefully when he said: “If we can do this, win back the House and Senate, then 2024 will be ours to lose. Imagine four more years of Donald Trump policies. “
Many preferred to focus on “culture war” issues that currently animate the Republican Party and Fox News. Abortion, the “culture of cancellation,” critical race theory, gun rights, and Marxism were frequent targets, as was Vice President Kamala Harris for not visiting the US-Mexico border.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas urged church pastors to become more politically involved. He said, “If we are to overcome the assault of awakening, then we must all awaken. The sleeping church needs to wake up. “
Cruz suggested that politics is subject to a natural pendulum that will surely swing back in the direction of the Republicans. “It took Jimmy Carter to give us Ronald Reagan. Joe Biden is Jimmy Carter 2.0 and I’m here to tell you: revival is coming. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism