CPAC puts wind in Trump’s sails
Will the momentum stay? It’s too soon to tell
In March 2016, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) attracted a broad slate of potential presidential candidates. They included world-renowned surgeon Ben Carson, then–Ohio Gov. John Kasich, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Cruz won the presidential straw poll with 40 percent of the votes. Rubio garnered over 30 percent, and Donald Trump, who didn’t attend that year, received 15 percent.
Seven years later, CPAC has become more of a one-man show.
At last week’s event, former President Trump delivered a nearly two-hour speech and ran away with the presidential straw poll. Sixty-two percent of attendees said they want him to represent them in the next presidential election. This year’s runner-up, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, received only 20 percent.
Trump leaned heavily into that approval.
“In 2016 I declared, ‘I am your voice,’” he told audiences on Saturday. “Today I add: I am your warrior, I am your justice, and for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”
So far, four contenders have declared their candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024: Trump, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, and business owner and author Perry Johnson. Johnson, Haley, and Ramaswamy received slivers of the CPAC straw poll votes with 5 percent, 3 percent, and 1 percent, respectively.
After CPAC, Ramaswamy told Fox News Business that someone approached him with an offer to buy his way into a top spot in the straw poll results. He said he turned that offer down.
“I’ve attended CPAC before. I didn’t know it works that way. A consultant calls my campaign shortly after I declare and says, ‘hey, we can get you up to No. 2 if you pay a few hundred thousand dollars.’ I was shocked,” Ramaswamy said in an interview.
Meanwhile, CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp is fending off a lawsuit for alleged sexual battery. The suit, which demands $9.4 million in damages, accuses Schlapp of groping an aide to Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign in Georgia. Schlapp denies the claims.
This year, several notable Republicans skipped CPAC. Neither former Vice President Mike Pence nor DeSantis attended, and both are expected to run for president.
DeSantis has said he won’t make any formal campaign announcement until after the conclusion of Florida’s legislative session in early May. Pence, when asked whether Republicans should coalesce around Trump or someone else, only said there would be “better options” to pick from in 2024 than in 2020.
With future contenders waiting for their moment to enter the race, predictions of what will happen in 2024 are still a long shot. But for the moment, Trump has CPAC’s momentum squarely behind him.