Reminders of former US President Donald Trump’s towering influence over the Republican Party were everywhere at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this weekend near Washington, DC.
Trump closed out CPAC, the annual conference of conservative leaders, on Saturday by airing grievances aplenty and promising only he can save America from becoming a “filthy communist nightmare” by getting rid of the “deep state” and overturning President Joe Biden’s policies if he gets a second chance in the nation’s highest office, Al Jazeera reports.
While the event was heavily weighted towards Trump, it remains an open question whether Trump’s appeal still extends beyond his hard-core loyalists.
Public opinion polls show many Republicans are looking for an alternative, such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, believing they may offer a better chance of winning the White House.
DeSantis, who has not yet declared a presidential run, spoke at Republican fundraisers in Houston and Dallas and is expected to give a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California on Sunday.
DeSantis also attended a gathering for Republican donors in Florida held by the anti-tax group Club for Growth, to which Trump was not invited.
While he has spoken at past events, DeSantis skipped CPAC this time around. Still, multiple speakers talked about pushing back against “wokeness,” diversity and equity plans in education and transgender student athletes, key themes for DeSantis that have taken root among conservatives nationwide.
At CPAC, the list of speakers was packed with Trump supporters such as US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, longtime allies including his former campaign adviser Steve Bannon, and members of Trump’s family, who often received louder ovations than the officeholders who spoke.
Kari Lake, who last year lost her bid to become Arizona’s governor and is an outspoken supporter of Trump’s false claims that the 2020 presidential election was riddled with fraud, was given a prime speaking slot, as was Jair Bolsonaro, the former far-right president of Brazil.
Both complained their elections had been stolen and both were greeted with applause from attendees.
By contrast, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, also seeking the Republican nomination, received a polite, if tepid, response from the crowd, as did former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, another potential presidential candidate.
Haley was met with chants of “Trump” in the hallway outside the ballroom where she gave her speech.
Trump and DeSantis are are scheduled in the coming days to visit Iowa, which holds the first Republican nominating contest next year.
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