OXON HILL, MARYLAND.—Hamburgers abolished. Slavery revived. A miserable life, then a gruesome death.At the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington this week, speaker after speaker sketched out a dark vision of America’s future under the “socialism” they dubiously claimed the Democratic Party has now adopted.Passersby look at “Unafraid and Unashamed” by artist Julian Raven during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 1, 2019. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)The relentless repetition, by everyone from Vice-President Mike Pence to celebrity pawn shop businessman Rick Harrison, served as an unmistakable signal: the party intends to make the supposed socialist scare a focus of its campaigning in at least the 2019 leg of the 2020 campaign.“The moment America becomes a socialist country is the moment that America ceases to be America. And as the president said 24 days ago, so we must say with one voice: America will never be a socialist country,” Pence said to an approving roar on Friday.Larry Kudlow, economic adviser to President Donald Trump, and former Trump official Sebastian Gorka invoked the Soviet Union — with Gorka, a far-right figure, declaring baselessly, “They want to take away your hamburgers! This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved!” Fiery commentator duo Diamond and Silk, Black women, claimed without elaboration that Democrats’ socialism would “drive us back to the days of slavery.”Pence and others warned of Democrats turning the country into Venezuela. Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel urged conservatives to talk about how the poverty-stricken Venezuelan people are “eating dog food to survive.”Read more: Trump makes 21 false claims, including a big lie about voter fraudIn dramatic testimony, Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen accuses him of crimesDonald Trump says his tariff threats forced ‘tough’ Canada into NAFTA concessions“That is the path that Democrats are taking us down,” she said, “by promising everything: free health care, free education.”The Democrats have made an unmistakable shift left since the 2016 election, with many of its officeholders now running on policies, like Canada-style single-payer health care, that they were reluctant to endorse until the Trump era. Polls suggest the general idea of “socialism” has also gained in popularity, especially among young adults.But there is no socialist takeover of the Democratic Party. The early Democratic presidential field includes a variety of liberals and one democratic socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose policies call to mind Canada and Scandinavia much more than the authoritarianism of Nicolas Maduro or the Soviets.A man wears a “Make America Great Again” drinks cap during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 1, 2019. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)Republicans have a long history of insisting that liberal policies represent a red menace, said Maurice Isserman, a Hamilton College history professor and a charter member of the Democratic Socialists of America. In the 1960s, he noted, Ronald Reagan argued that a Medicare program to provide health insurance to seniors would mean “ a short step to all the rest of socialism.” Barack Obama was frequently derided as a socialist on Fox News even as much of the left grew frustrated with his caution.“Any Democrat who proposes any kind of substantive reforms is going to be called a socialist by the Republicans these days. That’s just the price of doing politics. They’re just going to have to shrug it off and move on,” Isserman said.Republicans argue that the familiar playbook will work this time, especially in high-income suburbs that have drifted from their party in the Trump era. “Socialism is the greatest vulnerability by far that the House Democrats have,” Tom Emmer, chairman of House Republicans’ campaign committee, told the New York Times. US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 1, 2019. Pence and other CPAC speakers warned that Democrats were going to turn the United States into Venezuela. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)Jeff Hewitt, a Democratic strategist who wants the party to nominate a moderate rather than an ardent liberal for president, said the effectiveness of the “socialism” attack will depend on who the nominee is. But he said it reveals a Republican Party adrift without a substantive platform.“I think they’re in the throes of desperation around a historically awful president and this is all they have to run on,” Hewitt said.None of the Democratic presidential candidates was mentioned frequently at CPAC. Republicans’ top target was rookie member of Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist who has amassed a large online following. They were particularly eager to discuss her Green New Deal proposal for a massive government effort to reduce carbon emissions, which Republicans argued would trample civil liberties.BlazeTV’s Glenn Beck tried to literally scare people about socialism. He likened its adherents to students in a horror movie who mock the wise old townsman who warns them of gore to come. “They call him crazy, a nut who still believes in ghost stories. And then they’re all dead,” he said.Christine Riddiough, chair of the Democratic Socialists of America national political committee, said Venezuela is not going to work as a replacement “monster” for the Soviet Union, a U.S. arch-enemy foremost in the public mind for decades. “It’s a different time,” she said, and young people are sick of the status quo. “They’re living in a society here in the United States where a little socialism sounds pretty good when they wind up leaving college with tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt, unable to get a decent-paying job and seeing their parents going bankrupt because of health-care bills,” she said.Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8TOP STORIES, DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX.