“They restricted our freedoms,” read the text on a video that played in the main ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Orlando. “But they did not stop CPAC.”
More than a year into the global pandemic, CPAC is grappling with its first conference since multiple people, including several major Republican political figures, tested positive for Covid-19 around the time of the 2020 conference. For the first time in its nearly 50-year history, CPAC — which this year takes place the weekend after the US surpassed 500,000 deaths from Covid-19 — is being held outside of the Washington, DC, area, a move necessitated by restrictions on large events made by Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Matt Schlapp — the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which puts on CPAC — took note of the new location in his remarks introducing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday morning. Schlapp took a veiled shot at Hogan and his state for being too restrictive to allow CPAC to take place there.
“That state decided to cancel us because they said this was unsafe,” Schlapp said. “And I said to myself, I’ll be damned if I’ll be the first ACU chairman in 50 years to not have CPAC.”
While Florida’s restrictions are looser than in some other states, there is a mask mandate inside the hotel. Hotel employees and posted signs remind people to wear masks and social distance.
Adherence to these safety protocols among attendees has been mixed. Most attendees are wearing masks, although there are plenty of people who do not. None of the speakers or panel participants are wearing masks on the main stage.
About an hour into Friday morning’s session, an announcement from organizers reminding people to follow the rules of the hotel and wear their masks was met with some grumbling from the audience.
With those rules in place, DeSantis, a Republican, touted his own record on coronavirus and blasted other states for being too strict.
“For those of you who aren’t from Florida, welcome to our oasis of freedom. We are an oasis of freedom in a nation that’s suffering in many parts of the country under the yoke of oppressive lockdowns,” he said, noting that schools were open in Florida.
“Florida got it right and the lockdown states got it wrong,” DeSantis added.
“Can I just stop and say how strange the rules are right now? I want to understand how this virus works: So when you walk in, you’ve got to put your mask on,” he said.
Then he fumbled in his pocket for a second.
“Sadly, I’ve got two,” he said. “You walk in, you got to put your mask on. You sit down, you take your mask off.”
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