The nation’s largest right-wing summit has devoted at least seven panels to relitigating or amplifying false claims about the 2020 presidential election, not counting the speeches from high-profile Republicans and right-wing figures raising questions about “election integrity” after Donald Trump’s loss and a persistent lie that the election was “stolen” from his supporters.
Matt Schlapp, chair of the CPAC-hosting American Conservative Union, told CNN ahead of the conference that “we’re going to spend a lot of time going through what happened in the states” despite the Trump campaign’s spurious legal big and admission from his own Justice Department and nationwide election officials that no such fraud occurred.
“Just because you fail in court doesn’t mean you don’t have a good case,” he said.
Speakers have said their concerns are about “protecting elections” and ensuring “election integrity” but they have promoted the same baseless, legally dubious complaints that the former president and his campaign have argued for months leading up to the deadly riot at the Capitol on 6 January, as his supporters stormed into the halls of Congress to stop the certification of the votes.
The persistence of the “big lie” and surrounding claims of “irregularities” – along with the loss of the White House and Senate majority amid record Democratic turnout during a pandemic – have motivated Republican lawmakers in at least 43 states to introduce more than 400 bills to restrict voting rights, according to an analysis from the Brennan Centre for Justice.
Read more: Follow live updates from CPAC
Meanwhile, lawmakers in 43 states have introduced more than 700 bills to expand voting access.
Among the panels at this year’s CPAC are “Failed States (PA, GA, NV, oh my!)”, referencing state election results that the Trump campaign sought to overturn, and “Other Culprits: Why Judges & Media Refused to Look at the Evidence”, during which Fox News contributor Deroy Murdock called the election a “nightmare” and moderator Denise Cohen asked why judges and media outlets “didn’t look at all this evidence collecting everywhere”.
Right Side Broadcasting cut away from coverage of the panel, telling viewers instead to “do your own research in regards to what they’re talking about.” Voting machine companies have issued legal notices and threatened multi-billion dollar lawsuits against several media outlets that amplified election-related conspiracy theories involving the companies.
Mr Murdock also argued against absentee or mail-in ballots suggesting that Democrats would withhold medicine from elderly people in their families unless they voted for candidates they supported.
Also on the panel was Alabama US Rep Mo Brooks, the first member of Congress to announce his objection to the Electoral College votes and who has been accused of collaborating with “stop the steal” organisers to pressure lawmakers to object to the results. On 6 January, Mr Brooks said: “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”
A former South Korean lawmaker even explicitly told the crowd: “Just like President Trump, my loss was due to election fraud.”
The former president himself will address CPAC on Sunday.
Read more: When is Trump speaking at CPAC?
Also participating in the 20210 conference is Pennsylvania Representative Mike Kelly, who sought to invalidate Pennsylvania’s election results in court, and Cleta Mitchell, who was on the 2 January phone call between Mr Trump and Georgia election officials to “find” him votes to win the state.
On Friday, US Senator Josh Hawley received a standing ovation after announcing that he objected to Electoral College results after a deadly insurrection at the Capitol mounted by the former president’s supporters, fuelled by his lie that the election was stolen from them.
“On January 6 I objected to the Electoral College certification – maybe you heard about it,” he said. “I stood up, I said, ‘We ought to have a debate about election integrity’.”
He said “the left” has tried to “cancel me, censure me, expel me, shut me down” for his decision to try to block Electoral College results.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
Former congressman and Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz delivered remarks on “The Left Pulled the Strings, Covered It Up, and Even Admits It” directed at House Resolution 1, the For the People Act, which would expand voting rights and eliminate partisan gerrymandering – which if passed would deal a massive blow to Republicans who have relied on voter suppression.
Mr Chaffetz said the bill “has nothing to do with ‘for the people’ and everything to do with winning elections and securing elections” for Democrats, as he summarised a report from right-wing think-tank the Heritage Foundation.
“Don’t fall into the trap that liberals want to go which is federalizing this,” Mr Chaffetz said, urging Republicans to “fight it in your own community” against election reforms.
“That’s where conservatives need to be organised,” he said.