Margaret and Fiona Moodie have been coming to the Conservative Political Action Conference for a decade. It’s a family thing. Blonde and slender, this mother-daughter pair from Bowie, Maryland, is active in local Republican politics and once even ran for office together. They’re lifelong conservative activists, and CPAC always felt like a reunion with friends—until this year.
“We are so hated,” Margaret, 58, told me on Friday.
The Moodies are Ted Cruz supporters. They backed the Texas senator in last year’s Republican primary, and were even at the Indiana rally where he suspended his campaign. (If you watch video of the speech, they say, you can hear their screams of dismay.) The Moodies have not come around to President Donald Trump, whom they still consider unprincipled and morally repugnant, and this has made them outcasts in CPAC’s sea of “Make America Great Again” hats.
“There’s a lot of really angry people,” said Fiona, 24.
After hearing Trump’s rambling speech at the conference on Friday morning, the Moodies were aghast that he didn’t talk about unifying the conservative movement, and they criticized his griping about the media. “It doesn’t win over hearts and minds, and it doesn’t make jobs or opportunities for people,” Fiona said. “We’re not getting back to the Constitution, and that’s what this election was supposed to be about.”
The Moodies were especially appalled by Trump’s focus on “fake news,” since they see the president himself as a promotor of the same—a serial liar who, they’ll never forget, suggested Cruz’s father was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
“Our First Amendment says we can have fake news—even if he doesn’t like it,” Margaret said. “I mean, that is the absolute bedrock of who were are. I don’t like people making up stories. I don’t. However, that is the cost we pay for freedom of speech. It truly is. Deep Throat in Watergate? If it hadn’t been for an anonymous source, Watergate wouldn’t have been exposed. It would not. He is trying to shut down the voices of those Deep Throat–esque people. I think it’s horrifying. I truly think it’s horrifying.”
The Moodies worry, too, that Trump is corroding the conservative movement.
“The issue for me is we’ve lost the ability to intellectually articulate our argument,” Fiona said. A private school teacher of classical piano and American government, she’s even seeing a Trump effect at work. “What I’m seeing with my students is the perpetuation of dumbing down the argument,” she said, “and [thinking] it’s okay to bully people into believing what you believe. I’ve seen the sentiment change.”
The sentiment has changed at CPAC, too, where an event ostensibly devoted to conservative principles gave Trumpism a full embrace this week. But the Moodies have gotten used to feeling out of place these days, even in their own home: Margaret’s husband supports the president. “It makes dinners very difficult,” she said.
In this strange new political landscape, what are NeverTrump conservatives like the Moodies to do?
“I think it’s an important time for people like us to try and define ourselves,” Fiona said. “When I see him doing things I approve of, I’ll be honest and fair, but we have to be able to define conservatism as something outside of Trump and ensure that we stay true to those values.”
Margaret gave a more curt reply to my question: “We cry.”