NATIONAL HARBOR Md. After her speech to an attentive but not very interested audience was over, Nikki Haley ventured out of the half-empty ballroom and entered a small group of selfie-seekers.
The Republican White House hopeful was given the warm reception she deserved at the annual CPAC gathering. She offered her familiar lines about the aging officeholders, and took subtle shots at former President Donald Trump.
The good times were quickly interrupted.
One woman yelled, “Trump 2024!” as she walked up to the scrum. “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
As Haley was being escorted to the elevator, others joined in and joined in.
This scene, which was tense and hostile, gave early indications of Trump’s most passionate supporters clashing with those who are running against him for the GOP nomination 2024. It also highlighted how CPAC has become a venue to celebrate Trump’s achievements while providing entertainment for his supporters with MAGA-themed delights.
Trump will give a keynote speech at the end of the conference on Saturday night, following a straw poll that, according to the dynamics, should favor him. Florida Gov. is his closest rival in public opinions. Ron DeSantis is unable to attend the event, and the topic of detached speculation.
Trump’s former ambassador at the United Nations, Haley was among the few presidential hopefuls in attendance. This is a departure from the once-functioning proving ground that served as a platform for candidates, including Trump during his transition from reality TV mogul into politician. Republican honchos such as Speaker Kevin McCarthy or Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell will be absent, the low turnout being attributed to Trump’s narrow focus and a sexual misconduct against CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp.
David Williams, president and CEO of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance said that CPAC had become a Trump gathering, rather than a gathering of conservatives.
Williams’ group had rented a kiosk before the conference. Williams was unable to return this year due to Trumpism’s dominance and Schlapp’s allegation.
Williams stated, “It has become toxic.”
Schlapp, whose lawyers deny wrongdoing in the matter, opened Thursday’s conference by insisting that all was well. He also introduced Rep. Jim Jordan from Ohio, who is a pugnacious conservative from Ohio. A larger crowd gathered outside the main ballroom around Trump adviser Steve Bannon who broadcast his highly-rated right-wing show from media row.
It feels like MAGA country.
Donald Trump Jr.
“The Conservative Populist Action Conference!” Bannon bowed from his booth and offered a Trumpian version of CPAC. CPAC actually stands for Conservative Political Action Conference.
CPAC’s evolution is not for everyone.
Michael Biundo is a GOP strategist who has been involved in several presidential campaigns including Trump’s in 2016. He complained on twitter that CPAC this year was “without a shadowof a doubt” the worst.
Biundo told NBC News later that CPAC was losing its relevance due to the emergence right-wing groups like Turning Point USA, and Trump’s almost exclusive devotion.
“It’s now the Donald Trump Political Action Conference so if my campaign is for the presidency, why push my people into the straw poll?” Biundo wondered. He is not associated with any candidate or potential candidates.
Trump and his family are aware of the importance of this point.
Donald Trump Jr. stated, “Feels like MAGA Country,” as he began Friday’s speech.
Except for Haley, Trump’s only declared rivals were Perry Johnson and Vivek Rajaswamy, two well-known businessmen. Ex-Secretary of State in the Trump Administration Mike Pompeo spoke on Friday. He received a similar response to Haley.
Only Johnson was disqualified from the GOP primary in Michigan last year after failing to gather enough valid signatures. He put up a lot of politicalticking efforts. The self-described “quality guru” deployed a team of volunteers wearing red conversation-starting T-shirts — “Perry who?” they read — to roam the corridors of the conference site, the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.
Johnson’s crew aside. The scene was filled with pro-Trump shirts and slogans, as well as costumes, by loyal veterans of Trump’s administration, including Sebastian Gorka and Ben Carson. Former Trump White House press secretary Sean Spicer watched over his newly published children’s book, and the pen he had at his disposal to sign autographs. A giant thank-you note was displayed by another vendor for Trump.
Many people were less hesitant to support Trump. Stephen Robinson, a Virginian attendee, wore a Trump button made by him, signaling his preference for Kari Lake, a Trump-inspirated election denier who refuses acknowledgement of losing her bid to be governor of Arizona last spring — as vice-president.
Robinson stated, “I believe that it would be a slam dunk.” Robinson said that Trump is deserving of the nomination for 2024. “It’s not available for anyone else.”
Others indicated that they were open to considering DeSantis or Haley, as well as possible candidates such Virginia Governor. Glenn Youngkin said they prefer that these candidates wait until 2028, but not Haley or DeSantis.
Thomas Melvin, a retired Floridaan, said, “I’ll be listening to them,” but he didn’t understand why they would want Trump to win.
DeSantis was the subject of several high-profile endorsements. They answered questions about Trump’s likely candidacy and complimented his achievements as governor. They all offered the same advice, one by one: Stay in Florida.
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a Republican, stated in an interview that he would prefer that DeSantis “stay our governor”.
Gaetz said, “I worked so hard for him to become governor, and he deserves all eight years of Ron DeSantis’s governorship.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) suggested an additional four year term — which is unconstitutional in Florida due to the state’s limit on two consecutive terms.
She said to reporters that if she was Florida, she would give him a third term.
Lake was the headliner at Friday’s dinner at CPAC. He used similar talking points.
She said, “I think people just elected — and re-elected — — him as governor because he has been an effective governor,” while she was walking through the convention hall just hours before the dinner. “I believe they want he to remain governor. It’s Donald Trump time.”