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Orban, Lindell and Bannon: Conspiracy and controversy take hold at CPAC

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC News Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Viktor Orban
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gestures after speaking Thursday at CPAC in Dallas. LM Otero / AP

WASHINGTON — If it’s Friday … Monthly jobs report shows 528,000 jobs created in July and unemployment rate dropping to 3.5%. ... Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., signs off on the Democratic reconciliation bill, clearing way for passage. ... NBC News projects Kari Lake the winner in the GOP's Arizona gubernatorial primary. ... Opponent Karrin Taylor Robson endorses Lake, per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard. ... Trump-backed Joe Kent catches up to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in the Washington-03 primary. ... Andy Ogles wins TN-5 GOP primary. ... And Dick Cheney takes on Trump in new ad: “He is a coward. A real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters.”

But first: One conference doesn’t define an entire political party, but it sure tells you its direction. 

Just look at some of the speakers at this week’s conservative CPAC conference in Texas.

Start with Hungary’s Viktor Orban — who last month said “we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race” — and who told the CPAC audience Thursday that “globalist[s] can all go to hell” and blasted the “leftist media.”

Or today’s speakers and guests, including 2020 election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, political provocateur Jack Posobiec, former Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., current Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and yes, Steve Bannon, who was just found guilty of contempt of Congress. 

Or Sunday’s speakers like Nigel Farage, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and of course former President Donald Trump. 

Yes, more traditional politicians have spoken or will speak at CPAC, such as Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt. 

Yes, this is what a political party and conservative movement looks like when it’s still led by Donald Trump. 

But what stands out about this week’s conservative confab is how we’ve become numb to people like Orban, Lindell and Bannon all attending — and becoming the front door to conservatism and the GOP. 

This isn’t Ronald Reagan’s CPAC. Or George W. Bush’s and Dick Cheney’s. Or even the CPAC during Trump’s presidency. 

It’s taken a new turn. 

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 279

That’s the seven-day average of reported new cases of monkeypox  in America as of Aug. 3, per NBC’s data graphics team. Washington D.C. currently has about 38 cases per 100,000 people, the only state/territory/district with a double-digit number. New York, Georgia, Illinois and Maryland round out the other top states with the highest incidence per capita, and all but two states have seen cases.  

It’s against that backdrop Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency — there have been more than 6,600 cases in the country — in the hopes of unlocking new avenues toward preventing the virus’ spread

Other numbers to know:

9 years: WNBA star Brittney Griner’s prison sentence in Russia after she was convicted on drug charges on Thursday. 

$4.1 million: How much money Infowars founder Alex Jones, who spread conspiracy theories about the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, must pay the family of a child killed in the shooting

73 million: The number of people in the U.S. were under a heat alert Thursday.

6: The number of days Biden has tested positive for Covid in a rebound case of the virus, with another positive test on Thursday.

Midterm roundup: Arizona ad war begins

Senate candidates in Arizona wasted no time kicking off the general election after Tuesday’s primary, with both Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly and Republican Blake Masters launching new TV ads on Thursday. 

Masters’ spot features his wife Catherine talking directly to the camera, saying her husband is “in it because he loves his country so much and he loves his state so much.” The ad presents a softer image of Masters, who focused on core GOP issues like immigration in the primary, calling illegal immigration “an invasion.” 

With his GOP opponent now set, Kelly’s campaign also hit the airwaves with an ad highlighting Masters’ positions on abortion and calling them “dangerous.” Democrats clearly see abortion as a salient campaign issue in the battleground state. Also on Thursday, the super PAC Senate Majority PAC launched its own TV ad knocking Masters on abortion as well.

For more on the hotly contested race, check out NBC News’ Sahil Kapur’s dispatch from Chandler, Ariz.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail: 

Connecticut Senate: Trump endorsed Republican Leora Levy Thursday night, just days before the Aug. 9 primary. Levy is a GOP fundraiser and former RNC committee member whom Trump nominated to be ambassador to Chile (she was never confirmed). She’s competing against former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, whom the state partybacked at its convention in May. Trump said Klarides had been endorsed “by 3 of the Worst RINOs in the Country” — referring to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Florida Senate: Democratic Rep. Val Demings launched a new TV ad featuring current and retired law enforcement officers who pushed back on GOP attempts to tie Demings to the “defund the police” movement. GOP Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign doubled down, releasing its second TV ad Friday morning, also featuring law enforcement officers who called Demings “another radical rubber stamp.”

Arizona Governor: The NBC News Decision Desk projects that Republican Kari Lake has won the gubernatorial primary and will face off against Democratic Sec. State Katie Hobbs

Florida Governor: Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist responded to primary opponent Nikki Fried’s attacks on his past abortion stances with a new TV ad where Crist speaks directly to the camera and says, “Nikki knows I fought for your right to choose,” and another spot hitting Fried’s lobbyist past and association with Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz

Massachusetts Governor: Politico explores the state's GOP gubernatorial primary, another battle between the pro-Trump and moderate forces within the party. 

Michigan Governor: Right to Life Michigan is ramping up its spending in Michigan’s gubernatorial race, reserving $7.8 million worth of TV air time for September through early November, per AdImpact. And the Democratic Governors Association is already running an ad attacking Republican Tudor Dixon on abortion

New York-12: Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney walked back comments in a recent primary debate where she said she didn’t believe Biden would run for re-election. “Mr. President, I apologize. I want you to run,” she told CNN Thursday, before adding, “I happen to think you won’t be running, but when you run or if you run, I will be there 100%.”

Tennessee-05: The Associated Press projects Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles won Thursday’s nomination in the Republican-leaning district.  

Ad watch: Dick Cheney takes on Trump

Former Vice President Dick Cheney slammed former President Donald Trump, calling him a “coward” in a new TV ad bolstering his daughter, Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, ahead of her primary on Aug. 16, where she faces Trump-backed attorney Harriet Hageman. The new ad is Cheney’s first tracked by AdImpact to mention Trump by name. 

“In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump,” Dick Cheney says directly into the camera in the 60-second ad.

“He tried to steal the last election using lies and violence to keep himself in power after the voters had rejected him,” the former vice president adds. “He is a coward. A real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters.”

Read more about the ad on the Meet the Press Blog

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world 

Four officers (two current and two former) from Louisville have been charged with civil rights violations in the botched 2020 raid that led to the death of Breonna Taylor. 

China plans to halt low-level military dialogue and climate talks with the U.S. in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan earlier this week.Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gestures after speaking Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas.