Politics Trump set to dominate CPAC, while would-be 2024 rivals labor for attention
CPAC or Trump-PAC? Conservative conference delegates stick with Donald Trump
Delegates to conservative political conference say they don't know if Trump will run again in 2024, but they would be fine with it.Roaming the convention space of a luxury hotel near Disney World, CPAC delegates wear Make America Great Again hats and display Trump pins. They pose for pictures beside a "Golden Trump," a fiberglass mold statue of the ex-president painted in gold, holding star-shaped wands and wearing a coat-and-loosened-tie, beach shorts in a U.S. flag motif and flip-flops.
ORLANDO — The race for the 2024 Republican nomination begins in the hovering shadow of former President Donald Trump as contenders vying to succeed him atop the GOP descend on the Conservative Political Action Conference to woo party activists.
Defeated by President Biden in November, Trump is still a winner in the hearts of so many Republican voters; they would love to see him mount a third White House bid. The 45th president, declining to rule it out, is to address CPAC Sunday morning in central Florida, just a short trip from his new home base in Palm Beach, in the most anticipated speech of the annual gathering of Republican insiders and grassroots conservatives.
Kevin McCarthy’s CPAC panel shows how the GOP has devolved into a Trump personality cult
McCarthy contorts himself to praise Trump, as Trump reportedly considers denouncing him anyway.McCarthy’s remarks in particular — and CPAC 2021 in general — illustrate how whatever second thoughts the Republican establishment had about Trump following the insurrection have fallen by the wayside. And they were a reminder that although Trump did lose reelection, he remains a popular, and therefore powerful, figure in the Republican Party.
Amid this unmistakably pro-Trump setting, a collection of prominent Republicans are set to debut their 2024 message and plant the seeds of a campaign to take the reins of the GOP from the former president. Trump may eventually bow out of the running, and potential White House hopefuls are traveling to CPAC, kicking off Thursday, to stake their claim as his rightful successor.
“If you want to be the president of the United States, if you want to secure the Republican nomination, you come to CPAC,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, host of the event. “Essentially, the 2024 race starts at CPAC.”
Launched in 1973, CPAC is typically held in Washington, D.C., or nearby. This year, the four-day event is convening at a Hyatt Regency in Orlando. Coronavirus restrictions on gatherings are less severe in Florida than elsewhere, although the pandemic nevertheless forced CPAC to make adjustments in crowd size to satisfy public health guidelines. There is one constant with past gatherings: The biggest names in Republican politics are scheduled to speak on CPAC’s main stage.
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The former president rejected the idea of setting up a rival third party and indicated his desire to have a sway over the Republican Party.Trump listed Republican representatives who voted to impeach him in the House and Senators who subsequently voted to convict him during his speech as he addressed the conference on Sunday, branding them "grandstanders.
The roster of headliners is led by several Republicans mentioned as possible presidential contenders, including: Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley; South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem; former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; and Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Another figure on the watch list, Donald Trump Jr., also is slated to speak.
Notably absent are former Vice President Mike Pence, who sent his regrets to Schlapp, and Nikki Haley, former United States ambassador to the United Nations. Over the years, CPAC has provided budding presidential candidates, especially those entering the arena with little name identification or national profile, with an effective way to reach grassroots Republicans and create buzz. Even for the well-known, the event has become a must-stop on the GOP campaign trail.
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Former President Donald Trump turned the Conservative Political Action Conference into his first post-presidential rally Sunday evening, pledging in a speech riddled with falsehoods to purge his enemies from the Republican Party and hinting repeatedly at another run for the White House in 2024. © Joe Raedle/Getty Images Former President Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference held in the Hyatt Regency on February 28, 2021 in Orlando, Florida.
“It does provide a rare platform for emerging leaders to give speeches that get national notice,” said a Republican strategist whose clients have paraded through CPAC over the years.
Trump’s speech will be his first since exiting the White House Jan. 20. He plans to make clear that he will not retire from politics but rather intends to remain active as the de facto head of the Republican Party heading into the 2022 midterm elections.
The broader theme of the gathering is “America Uncanceled.” Republicans believe the federal government under full Democratic control, and cultural and corporate forces, are intent on silencing conservatives. For instance, Trump was permanently booted off of Twitter. But the larger purpose of this year’s CPAC is to motivate conservative activists to reengage in politics and have faith in the American system.
Schlapp said they have been discouraged after the GOP lost the White House and Senate control. Like Trump, they are convinced the 2020 election was stolen. “Part of the conference is to get everyone to realize that we have to get out of this mode of being down,” he explained. “A lot of it is political counseling.”
Donald Trump Said 'Biden' 36 Times at CPAC, While His Successor Looks Ahead
The former president took aim at a range of adversaries in his address, while he hinted at potentially running for office again himself.Trump branded Biden's time in office so far as "disastrous," and issued scathing remarks on the new administration's positions on a variety of issues thus far.
Through the years, CPAC’s critics have pointed to provocative guests sometimes booked for speeches and the various policy panels that occur throughout the gathering. Some Republicans dismissively have referred to CPAC as the political version of the iconic bar scene in the movie Star Wars, during which a bunch of weird-looking aliens are hanging together, having a good time.
In recent years, some CPAC critics referred to the conference as “T-PAC” because attendees have come to lionize Trump and adopt his brand of conservative populism. Yet whatever political observers think of CPAC, a look back at its history reveals an event that was always at the forefront of where the conservative movement was heading.
In the late 2000s, libertarian-leaning Republican Ron Paul was often the most popular figure at CPAC, signaling that some conservatives were itching to break away from the foreign and domestic policies of Ronald Reagan, which had defined conservatism for a generation. In 2011, Trump made his first appearance on CPAC’s main stage. Five years later, he remade the GOP base in his image on his way to winning the presidency.
“It’s a good place to see where the party is on various issues," Republican strategist Andy Surabian said. "It’s an even better place to spot trends that might take some time to unfold."
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The former president’s grip on the party base is so total that top Republicans say the path to the nomination is best defined by the degree of loyalty to him.But there’s only one lane that really matters: the one currently occupied by former President Donald Trump.