Revelations that a man infected with the novel coronavirus hobnobbed with top Republicans at the annual Conservative Public Action Conference last month has prompted a wave of fright among Republican operatives who attended the conference and fear they may have been exposed, too. And as the fear has mounted so too have complaints that the conference’s planners have been too secretive about the man’s identity.
“If you’re not rich and important, you don’t get to know if you were exposed to someone with Coronavirus at CPAC,” Breitbart reporter Brandon Darby tweeted Monday.
The American Conservative Union, which organizes the annual event in National Harbor, Maryland, announced Saturday afternoon that a man who was infected with the coronavirus attended CPAC. Since then, four prominent Republicans—Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ), Rep. Doug Collins (GA), and Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL)—have announced that they’re self-quarantining after interacting with the man.
Gaetz has undergone a test for the virus. In contrast, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who also had contact with the infected man, said he won’t self-quarantine.
CPAC chief Matt Schlapp was also quarantining himself after shaking the man’s hand. Schlapp later shook hands with President Donald Trump at the event. Collins also shook hands with Trump at an event over the weekend and Gaetz rode with Trump on Air Force One on Monday, raising the prospect that the president may have had secondhand exposure to the potentially fatal virus that’s spreading across the world and shaking the global economy.
While top lawmakers apparently knew the man’s identity, other CPAC attendees were frustrated with the lack of information about the person, whose name hasn’t been released to protect his privacy. Former Breitbart reporter Lee Stranahan, who now co-hosts a radio show on Russian-owned broadcaster Sputnik, said he’s been irritated by the lack of contact from CPAC officials about the potential coronavirus exposure.
In the place of more information from CPAC organizers, conservative Twitter accounts have started to speculate about who the man may be and who could have been exposed because of him.
“To me, it’s a weird guessing game at this point,” Stranahan said. “The fact that we’re hearing it through the rumor mill is bothersome.”
For full disclosure, this reporter also attended CPAC and wrote this piece while in quarantine at home.
The potential for a coronavirus outbreak at the right’s premier annual conference became a hot topic on conservative Twitter after CPAC’s announcement. Blaze host Jon Miller, who spoke on a CPAC panel, posted a picture of a thermometer reading as supposed proof that he didn’t have the coronavirus. Conservative pundit Raheem Kassam complained on Twitter about experiencing flu-like symptoms since attending CPAC and chronicled his frustrated attempts to get tested.
Using a CPAC schedule, Kassam openly speculated about which administration officials and conservative personalities could have interacted with the man who tested positive for coronavirus. So far, however, no second case of coronavirus at the conference has been reported.
Several far-right personalities who have clashed with CPAC—deeming it a bastion of the establishment Republican Party—slammed organizers for the coronavirus exposure. Columnist Michelle Malkin, a once-prominent figure at CPAC who gave a speech this year at a rival event hosted by a number of white nationalists, accused Schlapp of choosing “donor protection over concern for health of conservative grassroots.”
CPAC’s position as one of the top conservative networking events in the country means that plenty of people, including prominent lawmakers and conservatives, were shaking hands and greeting one another. San Diego Young Republicans President Morgan Kimbarow, who attended CPAC, told The Daily Beast that he’s been trying to reduce his in-person social contacts since hearing about the potential coronavirus incident.
“Obviously, those people were in touch with a lot of people, shaking hands, going through media row,” Kimbarow said. “So it’s certainly scary.”
Top Republicans have avoided criticizing CPAC’s organizers, with the lawmakers who attended only announcing their plans to self-quarantine. But if a Democratic convention had had a similar incident, Stranahan said, many of the conservatives who attended CPAC would be quick to mock their political rivals.
“Everybody would be like ‘Look how irresponsible they are,’” he said.