Tom Perez, the freshly elected Democratic National Committee chair, might well be entering his second month running her Justice Department, if only Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election. Instead, on Saturday, Perez was welcomed into his new job by jeering progressive activists, who for the second time in a year, saw their preferred pick to lead the party defeated after an unexpectedly feisty campaign. Supporters of Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the choice of Sen. Bernie Sanders, painted Perez’s election as another victory for an establishment they blame for ceding the White House to Donald Trump by alienating young and working class voters.
“This was not an ideological battle between a corporate Democrat and a progressive,” said co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Adam Green, who also noted that Perez too would have been his choice for attorney general in a Clinton administration. “We agree with him on policy and thought he would challenge big corporations like he did as President Barack Obama’s labor secretary.”
The problem, Green suggested, was that Perez did not — at least not yet — have “his finger on the pulse of progressive resistance” to the new administration. Across the ballroom, one young and frustrated Ellison supporter, Alexa Vaca, put it simply: “This shows that the Democratic Party didn’t learn their lesson.”
While Democrats clawed at each other in Atlanta, the festivities at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, were beginning to wind down. Over the previous 48 hours, the annual conservative gathering had welcomed its first sitting Republican president in his first year in office since Ronald Reagan.
“I wouldn’t miss a chance to talk to my friends,” Trump said between roars of approval during his Friday address. “These are my friends. And we’ll see you again next year and the year after that, and I’ll be doing this with CPAC whenever I can, and I’ll make sure that we’re here a lot.”
A year before, Trump didn’t attend the conference, backing out the day before his scheduled appearance. In response, the American Conservative Union, which organizes the gathering, said Trump’s decision “comes at a critical time in our movement’s history. His decision sends a clear message to grassroots conservatives.”
“I think that Trump is a different type of conservative than, perhaps, the mainstream conservative, and I think that’s why he got so far in the primaries,” said Wesley Dalton, a student at Brigham Young University in Utah.
Even what remained of the GOP’s dedicated libertarian wing, which had been transformed by the rise of Trumpism from an ascendant force to a CPAC afterthought, sought to parlay the presidential moment by passing out caps that read, “Make Taxation Theft Again.”