“Nobody expected the mob of bands that followed the Beatles’ early success would replicate the lads’ triumphs just because they wore their hair long, sported the same suits and drew on the same musical influences. And they didn’t. The imitators wrote hits, filled theaters and even caused young girls to scream, but Beatlemania—almost a mass delusion, a form of ecstatic consciousness provoked just by the toss of a mop-topped head, or an arrival on an airport tarmac—remained highly specific to the actual Beatles.
The Donald Trump phenomenon is the closest thing we’ve seen in American politics, with the Republican base standing in for smitten teenagers in 1964. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that when the base gathered for its annual conclave at CPAC last week, none of Trump’s would-be successors roused more of a response than a group of Fab Four impersonators at a sock hop.
They tried—boy, did they try. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), trying to boost his anti-immigration credentials, dropped a quip about the Biden administration’s border policy—“That’s not catch-and-release,” he said, “that’s recruit-and-release!”—at which point a “few polite titters rippled through the ballroom,” reporter Elaina Plott observed in the New York Times. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) bombed, too, as he tried to out-Trump Trump with an anti-China line that zinged Hunter Biden. (He “paused for a reaction that never came,” wrote Plott.) Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the college debate champion and one-time Tea Party darling, treated the session like a stand-up comedy gig, drawing only scattered applause. The only Cruz line that made the crowd roar was one in praise of Dear Leader Trump, the Texas Monthlyreported.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Trump impressions did better, but the winners of the battle of the bands were Govs. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), both of whom ranked second and third to Trump in CPAC’s 2024 straw presidential poll—but more from their resistance to the pandemic lockdown than their evocation of Trump himself.
Can nobody in the GOP wear the big man’s big suit and endless red tie? Trump himself got a decent response from the “ebullient crowd” (Washington Post) when he spoke at CPAC, so the base hasn’t tired of his jokes, insults, grievances and bombast. They just needed to hear the original hits as performed by the original hit-maker.”