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Washington Sees the Rise of the Conservative Partnership Institute, Aligned with Trump

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The Trump-Allied Conservative Partnership Institute Rises in Washington

In the grand Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla., a new force in Washington’s right-wing ecosystem, the Conservative Partnership Institute, held its winter conference. The former Trump legal adviser, Cleta Mitchell, was among some 150 conservative donors and activists who gathered in Coral Gables earlier this month to celebrate the ascendancy of a group that has become a well-paying sinecure for Trump allies and an incubator for the policies the former president could pursue if elected.

The group’s top executive, Jim DeMint, the former U.S. senator from South Carolina, was there, as was Mark Meadows, President Donald J. Trump’s former chief of staff. Along with more than a dozen members of the House Freedom Caucus and Mollie Hemingway, the editor in chief of The Federalist, whose parent company C.P.I. helps underwrite.

The message at the conference was “taking on the Swamp” from a nonprofit with a $36 million annual budget from private donors that now operates as a full-service nerve center for right-wing activity and a breeding ground for the next generation of Trump loyalists. Legislators can hold fundraisers in its event rooms, send their staff members to training sessions at the group’s getaway lodge in Maryland, do their TV news hits in its studio, or be fed, by text message, follow-up questions for lawmakers to ask witnesses during congressional hearings. Donors can funnel their money through the institute into a host of conservative causes.

The organization aims to be much more than a refuge. One of the groups it has staffed and funded, the American Accountability Foundation, says in its mission statement that it seeks to “advance conservative messaging” by aggressively attacking appointees for the Biden administration. Another offspring, the Center for Renewing America, aims to take on what it calls a leftist “cultural revolution” as well as a “taxpayer-funded woke federal bureaucracy.”

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However, critics say that by incubating these and other groups, C.P.I. is running afoul of laws that prohibit tax-exempt nonprofit organizations from engaging in partisan activity. Today a watchdog organization, Campaign for Accountability, and a progressive nonprofit research group, Accountable.US, filed a formal complaint about the group to the Internal Revenue Service, arguing that the group’s offerings of funds and services are reserved for a single political party.

C.P.I.’s original aims were modest but in 2021, the group’s annual revenue swelled to $45.7 million. After Mr. Trump’s defeat, the organization positioned itself as the combat-ready vessel for the outrage from the MAGA wing of the Republican Party. C.P.I. recruited Trump heroes, adding Mr. Meadows, who became a senior partner a week after Mr. Trump left office. The former White House chief of staff “helped incubate and launch” numerous related groups that would be headed by prominent fellow Trump alumni.

A combat-ready vessel for what appears to be a sneaky political operation rather than an honest nonprofit, says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse requested details on several of the group’s endeavors. Amidst criticism, the Conservative Partnership Institute stands as a shining example of power and influence in Washington’s right-wing ecosystem.

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Chats and reflections on the present moment.

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Lydia Polgreen

Credit…Will Heath/NBC, via Getty Images

It is a rare thing in our rapidly secularizing country to be confronted with piety and devotion in popular culture. So it was a surprise, and a balm, to watch a man who prays daily and talks openly about his devout faith storm a bastion of earthly godlessness: “Saturday Night Live.”

I am referring, of course, to the comedian Ramy Youssef, who hosted the show on what he described in his opening monologue as “an incredibly spiritual weekend,” noting Ramadan, Easter and the arrival of a new Beyoncé album.

“I’m doing the Ramadan one,” he quipped, to peals of laughter, unspooling a very funny bit about how loving Muslims are. Youssef has mined his experience as a believer among the profane in gentle standup specials and a namesake sitcom. His entire monologue glowed with a welcoming warmth — Muslims, he seemed to say: We’re just like you.

In a country that is supposedly obsessed with diversity and inclusion, it is remarkable how rare it is to hear from a practicing Muslim in America.

Surveys by the Institute for Policy and Understanding, a nonpartisan research organization focused on Muslim Americans, have consistently found that Muslims are the most likely group to report religious discrimination in the United States. According to a Pew survey conducted in 2021, 78 percent of Americans said that there was either a lot or some discrimination against Muslims in our society. Muslims are no more likely to commit crimes than members of any other group, but crimes in which Muslims are suspects get outsized media coverage, research has shown.

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It is no surprise, then, that Islamophobia is perhaps the most tolerated form of religious prejudice. Right now, Senate Republicans appear to have persuaded several Senate Democrats to vote against a Muslim judicial nominee after smearing him, with no evidence at all, as an antisemite.

Many of the skits that toyed with religion on “S.N.L.” on Saturday were funny — Ozempic for Ramadan! Genius. But part of me winced through them as well, because I saw in Youssef something that other members of minority groups have had to do to “earn” their place in the safety of the mainstream: the performance of normalcy, of being nonthreatening and sweet, the requirement to prove that your community belongs in America just like everyone else’s.

I loved Youssef’s monologue, in which he bravely pleaded, “Please, free the people of Palestine. And please, free the hostages. All of the hostages.”

“I am out of ideas,” Youssef declared toward the end of his monologue. “All I have is prayers.”

To which this nonbeliever can only say: Same, Ramy. Same.

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