Donald Trump’s presidency ended and his Twitter account was silenced, but at the first major Conservative meeting of the year, the message is clear: Trump is here to stay.
Elected officials and activists speaking on the first day of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held in Florida this year, focused on the restrictions of COVID-19, the so-called cancellation culture, how the 2020 elections were administered and threats to see from democratic politics. While the attack on Capitol Hill last month was barely mentioned, speakers criticized the “liberal mob” and riots over the summer.
The conference does not feature outspoken criticism of the former president, so praise for Trump, who still has the support of the majority of Republican voters, was an opening day theme.
“There are a lot of voices in Washington that just want to erase the last four years,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz told the crowd. “Let me tell you right now: Donald J. Trump is not going anywhere.”
Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton told a story about an immigrant who attributed his economic success to the former president and celebrated Trump’s ability to attract Latino voters in the 2020 election.
And Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley received a standing ovation when he told the crowd of his objection to the election results on January 6. He criticized Twitter for banning Trump and ended his speech with: “America now, America first, America forever.”
Many speakers urged the Republican Party not to return to its pre-Trump origins and criticized some of the policies that have pushed past Republican leaders.
“We will not win the future by trying to get back to where the Republican Party used to be,” said Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who also chairs the Senate Republican campaign operation. “If we do that, we will lose the base of work that President Trump encouraged so much. We will lose elections across the country and ultimately we will lose our nation.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who will run for reelection in 2022, set his own brand for conservatives going forward, saying the party rejects open borders, “weakness” against China and “military adventurism.”
“We will not go back to the days of the failed Republican establishment of yore,” he said. “Hold the line, defend your position, and never, never back down.”
Hawley told people who attended CPAC that they “represent what comes next.”
“To the people who tell us, ‘Oh, you’re the past. Your moment is past, it’s over. Now it’s Joe Biden’s America,'” he said. “I just want to say, ‘We are not the past. We are the future,'” he said.
At the event, Hawley used the widespread criticism of his objection to the Electoral College vote count on January 6 as a badge of honor.
“They called me a traitor, they called me a seditionist,” he said of the reaction to his vote. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m standing here. I’m going to defend them, because if we can’t have a free and open debate in this country, we won’t have a country left.” . His phrasing echoed a comment Trump made to his supporters that day: “If you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country anymore.”
Nearly a dozen speakers at the event have been mentioned as potential 2024 presidential candidates. “For a second, I thought we were in Des Moines,” Cruz joked about the speaker lineup.
Cotton, one of the possible contenders for the White House, suggested that Republicans might not run against Biden for four years. “They want to give amnesty to between 15 and 20 million illegal aliens. Without conditions, with the right to vote, presumably in time for what they hope is the re-election campaign of Kamala Harris,” he said.
But as a list of Republicans compete to improve their profiles, it is Trump who is the keynote speaker, ready to make his first public comments since leaving office at the conference Sunday.
Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., joked that the conference should be called “TPAC” because of the support the former president has among the audience. He gave a brief preview of his father’s speech, telling the crowd, “I imagine it won’t be what we call a ‘low energy’ speech. And I assure you it will solidify Donald Trump and all his feelings about MAGA. The movement as the future of the Republican Party ”.
Polls show that Trump still has a firm grip on the Republican Party base. A Suffolk University / USA Today poll released earlier this week found that nearly 6 in 10 Trump supporters said they would like to see him run for president again in 2024 and 76% said they would vote for him if he sought the nomination. republican.
Notable speakers on Saturday include Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who have been featured as potential 2024 presidential candidates.