Only 5 Trump Hats At Americafest
This is MAGA Country. So Where's MAGA?
Americafest was a four-day wonderland of revelations, but the most wonderous of them all was the overwhelming evidence of just how far Trump’s star has fallen.
I did not encounter every single person at Americafest, of course. According to Charlie Kirk, the Turning Point USA winter conference attracted 10.5 thousand people. Based on the number of empty seats at the Phoenix convention center this estimate is high, but certainly thousands of people attended. I sat with them in the main hall, squeezed past them in Media Row, chatted with them at the swag booths, and partied down with them after hours.
Americafest is MAGA country. We’re talking Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Tucker Carlson, Kaleigh McEnany, Kari Lake, Charlie Kirk himself. Donald Trump’s own son. An enormous basket of deplorables.
So when I tell you that in the four days I attended Americafest I saw exactly 5 Trump hats, please understand that this is serious.
Of course no one denounced Trump on the AmFest stage. That’s not how things work around here. The man just isn’t there. Like jazz, it’s about the notes the pundits didn’t play.
Check out the way Josh Hawley ended his speech on Day 2:
My plea to you is: don’t leave this place the same as you came in. Make a vow with yourself and the people you came with that you will leave a different person. You will leave with the conviction that your character holds the destiny of this country…because that is the truth.
And if we do that together, we will change the future of this country. We will change the course of this country and we will preserve this, the last, best hope on earth. God bless you!
Have you ever, in your life, seen a more natural place for “And we will make America great again!” then the ending of that speech? Trump’s slogan is worlds more compelling than a butchered Babylon 5 quote, yet Hawle chose Commander Jeffrey Sinclair anyway. Trump’s done.
Earlier that day, Donald Trump Jr addressed the riotous crowd. This is my third time seeing Junior speak and the first time he’s been any good. Previously the lad attempted to ape his father’s signature style, but there can be only one, and even Ted Cruz does a better Trump than Trump Jr did. On the Americafest stage, however, Don was his own man. His speech was the usual substance-free mishmash of pronoun jokes, cancel culture and election fraud — at one point he actually declared that the issues are beside the point — but it was his substance-free mishmash, not his father’s, and that’s new.
Trump Jr evoked his father’s style just once, towards the end of his speech. "It would have been much easier for me to stay being a real estate developer. We used to be loved in New York City. Now? Not so much.” Jr gave the “not so much” the old Trump inflection, just for a moment, and the audience laughed appreciatively. “I got a little bit of the Trump gene, I can't shut up. I've got to keep fighting.”
It was his biggest applause line of the night: not for Trump but for the man who’s a bit like Trump; the future, not the past.
The old man wasn’t entirely absent, of course. Kaleigh McEnany’s speech centered entirely around her service as press secretary in the final days of the Trump administration, and she remembered her former boss with fondness. “She gives the same speech every time,” the young man next to me remarked, mildly annoyed. Kimberly Guilfoyle, who spoke directly before her fiancé Trump Jr, gave 45 a small shout-out, but Guilfoyle definitely delivers the same speech every time and frankly would not be invited to speak at all if she hadn’t been married to Gavin Newsom and didn’t look fresh off the set of some skin flick with a title like “how the sausage is made.” It’s not sexist if it’s true. That woman fucked her way to every podium she’s ever stood behind and hats off to her: she’s got one asset and she’s used it effectively.
Kari Lake praised Trump more than any other speaker — called him her “foxhole friend” — but she’s hitched her wagon so securely to Trump’s star that she must stay the course or perish. Lake is Trump’s spiritual successor, or she would like you to believe she is. Her apeing of Trump is less obvious than Jrs was because she is a woman and because she has her own speaking pattern, but the markers are all there. Lake encouraged her audience to boo the Fake News Media, even threw an obscene gesture our way. She drew endless parallels between Trump’s rigged 2020 election and the alleged election fraud she believes cost her the Arizona governorship. She will solve the border crisis, she will make the liberals cry; hell, she even went catastrophically over time for no reason. I find her insufferable, but the AmFest audience disagrees with me. There were more Kari Lake hats at the conference than Trump hats, though as previously stated that’s a low bar to clear.
Tucker Carlson, who apparently has an appetite for danger, took questions at the end of his opening night speech. An enthusiastic young man named Joshua stepped up to the microphone and asked the third-rail question in the kind of tone non-sickos reserve for celebrity gossip:
With a 2022 Republican primary election happening soon, who do you plan to support? Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis?
With one voice, my own very much included, the thousands-strong crowd said: “ooooh”
“Well Joshua,” Carlson replied, “as you’ve noticed, my endorsement means a lot to the American voters.” The host of America’s number one prime-time cable show laughed his horrible, manic laugh, the kind that usually precedes a psychotic break, the kind of laugh the Joker can only dream of laughing.
“I’m not endorsing anyone,” Carlson said flatly. He then proceeded to outline the strengths of both candidates. DeSantis, Carlson says, is an iconic governor. People love him. His name recognition is off the charts. He inspires personal loyalty. Carlson knows DeSantis personally and he’s a great guy.
Here’s Carlson’s praise of Trump, in its entirety:
I'm so grateful that Donald Trump ran in 2016. Donald Trump completely changed my view of everything. Donald Trump is why I left Washington. And he did it in a really simple way: by asking questions that no one around him could answer. He showed up and said things like, “why don't we have a border?” “Shut up! Shut up, racist!” Or my personal favorite. He's like, “what's the point of NATO?”
Past tense. Complimentary yes, but entirely past tense. Dear God. When you’ve lost Tucker, what do you have left?
“President Trump has to realize something, as much as we love him and support him,” Stephen K Bannon told his frothing, fawning crowd on the final day of AmFest. “This is not 2015.”
Bannon here makes a similar point to the one I made last week, so of course I think he’s right. One thing hasn’t changed since 2015: Bannon remains my hate-crush. A dreadful, scabrous, sweaty, stinking beast of a man, an Evola-worshipping would-be kingmaker who wanted to be Goering but clawed his way back into favor as Goebbels. I loathe him, he makes me sick, I hang onto his every word, I cannot get enough of his wretched twisted mind. He possesses both the stark honesty of the alt-right and the ability to temper his words just enough to avoid the alt-right’s ultimate fate. He has died a dozen political deaths and risen from the grave each time. When he speaks, I listen.
Bannon’s speech is complicated, for all that it sounds like it was written with a testosterone shot as a pen. He is screaming for war. He is invoking the revolution. He is calling for the imprisonment of everyone in the intelligence community who prevented Trump from seizing power in 2020. Bannon claims not just one stolen election but two: that Russiagate deprived Trump of the ability to do all the Trumpy things he wanted to do. This is an aggressively pro-Trump speech.
Except Bannon’s speech too uses the past tense for the former president.
Remember Trump — for all his shortcomings, all his failures — he did need to do this. The reason they hate him is because of you. Right? Exactly. Exactly. Shield and sword. You know why? Because in Washington, DC, if you're not in the room, you're not in the deal. And Donald Trump not only puts you in the room, he puts you at the head of the table. Now, are you prepared to give that seat up?
This is not 2015. Maybe Bannon will endorse Trump in ‘24 if no one else emerges who can give him the blood he needs to stay alive. But Bannon knows Trump’s best days are behind him. He is waiting, waiting, waiting for the next big thing.
I did not listen to every one of the 57 people who spoke at Americafest — I had to do things like go to the bathroom and collect free swag from merch tables like a demented Pokemon trainer. But I did catch most of the speeches, and I heard very little mention of Trump from anyone I have not already named here. Passing references, at most.
Donald Trump is done, but the MAGA movement isn’t. This conference, despite the lack of hats, was well-attended. The millions of die-hards remain. The future is uncertain, but there will be a future. And, if the past is any indication, the future is going to be very, very weird.
Nature abhors a vacuum. The only question remaining is what, precisely, will fill the space Trump used to occupy. Without a charismatic leader to serve as focal point for the fractuous wings of the GOP, foundational cracks the party plastered over are about to become rifts. The war for the future has already begun.
Stay tuned: I’ll be writing about the fight for the soul of the GOP next week.
This is the first of four planned AmericaFest articles. If you liked it, please consider sharing it! My trip to AmFest is a test of concept to see whether I can afford to self-publish rather than limiting myself to events large publications are interested in. Success will mean a lot more trips and a lot more articles like this one, so if you like it, consider telling your friends or throwing a paid subscription my way.
What rough beast, its hour come round at last, indeed?
I agree with you on several points. Bannon, like Stone Flynn and others too numerous to mention are all awful so called humans that I hate and thonk are far from done trying to make America a fascist state. Also MAGA isn't done as a movement, cult and danger to the rest of us who just want to live our lives as WE see fit. Which is what the right CLAIMS they want but also want to decide for everyone else whether we like it or not. I wonder about Qanon bc like an alligator it breaks tge surface to take a breath but seems to mostly lurk just below the surface now? I think like MAGA it isn't gone so much as biding its time waiting for the next big thing. Did you see any evidence of Q presence at AMERICAFEST? in any case I for one am glad to have you to help keep an eye on things so to speak even though the potential damage to your eyes, liver and psyche is worrisome. Keep plugging Lady! Merry Christmas and hopefully a Happy New Year.