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.”
It was only seven years ago that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, told the CPAC crowd that “it’s good to oppose the bad things, but we need to start being for things.”
Just as Mr. Trump excised Bush-style conservative politics from the Republican Party, so has it been removed from the annual CPAC gathering.
Playing to feelings of resentment and alienation is a far safer bet for Republicans than advancing a policy agenda when the party remains split on taxes, foreign policy and how much to indulge Mr. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
“You can always cut taxes, you can always roll back regulations, you can always elect better people,” Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said. “But when freedom is lost and it’s eroded, it is so hard to reclaim.”
At CPAC, there was no shortage of stories about the horrors of cultural and political cancellations — though the speakers offered scant evidence of actual suffering.