The former U.S. president and his one-time ally will seek to woo thousands of conservatives this week. Jair Bolsonaro and former British Member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage are confirmed for the convention.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump and his longtime ally Nikki Haley will seek to woo thousands of conservatives gathered outside Washington this week to vet Republican White House hopefuls. The Conservative Political Action Conference, which runs for four days from Wednesday through Saturday, is a national showcase for both established and rising stars.
The meeting bills itself as the “largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world.” A number of top foreign far-right leaders, including former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and former British MEP and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, are expected to address the convention, although many potential 2024 candidates will not be present.
Trump’s keynote speech on Saturday is likely to repeat the “Make America Great Again” slogan that brought him to power in 2016, addressing border security, free-carry rights and other predominantly conservative issues. Whether the real estate mogul will say anything about rivals such as Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence and Haley remains to be seen.
With some conservatives questioning the value of CPAC, top Trump adviser Jason Miller said the mainstream media are attacking the conference because Trump “is going to have a dominant presence there.” Miller argued that they are seeking to distract attention from the fact that Trump “is the leader of the conservative movement, the Republican party and 2024 polling.”
Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the U.N., is expected to argue in turn that the Republican “Grand Old Party” needs a new generation of leaders, untainted by recent electoral failure and able to inspire new voters. It is a clear message from the 51-year-old former South Carolina governor to 80-year-old President Joe Biden, but one that could also apply to 76-year-old Trump.
For Margaret Susan Thompson, professor of politics and history at Syracuse University, “Nikki Haley has to negotiate the very thin line between differentiating herself from Donald Trump and still appealing to — or not alienating herself from — his supporters, who still constitute the vast majority of CPAC activists and GOP primary participants.” Thompson says Haley seems to be focusing on the age issue, but “given the … GOP/MAGA base, which is skewed toward seniors, she needs to tread very carefully on that front.
Trump announced his candidacy three months before Haley, who did so in mid-February, but his campaign has been criticized for its inertia, lack of a clear political vision and the constant scandals that accompany it. The slew of controversies surrounding the former president, from the poor performance of the major candidates he has endorsed to the multiple investigations dogging him, raise questions about whether he can continue to lead the Republicans.
“So far, most of his rallies and speeches have looked backward, focusing on the ‘stolen election’ and so on, rather than on what he intends to do in the future” says Thompson, who adds, “In my view, it is not a way to expand his base of support.” However, Trump’s persistent strength in the polls disturbs his critics.
The former president continues to clearly outperform many of his rivals, such as Florida Gov. DeSantis and former Vice President Pence. According to the latest Fox News poll, 43% of Republican primary voters support the former president’s candidacy for the 2024 presidential election. Trump is followed by DeSantis, with 28%, and Haley and Pence with 7% each.
DeSantis and Pence Absent
CPAC delegates will hear from more than 100 mostly pro-Trump speakers, including former cabinet secretaries, several Republican senators, and numerous far-right members of the House of Representatives. This year’s program includes Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, who is calling for a national “divorce” between red states and blue states.
Also on CPAC’s agenda is Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who is conducting a series of investigations into the Biden administration. Completing the list are former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign manager, Steve Bannon. From the region, Brazil’s former president, Bolsonaro, and his son, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, will also be present.
Despite these presences, much of the Republican party establishment, including DeSantis, Pence and the leaders of the Republican National Committee and Congress, are refusing to make the pilgrimage to National Harbor, the Maryland location hosting the convention. “DeSantis is stiffing CPAC because he knows Donald Trump owns the space,” says Rick Wilson of the Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump conservatives who take some of the credit for the Republican front-runner’s defeat in 2020.
The absence of many big names comes after CPAC organizer Matt Schlapp recently denied allegations of sexual assault against a Republican campaign staffer in Georgia.
The conference traditionally ends with an “informal poll” on attendees’ preferences for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump has been taking every poll since his election in 2016, garnering 69% of the vote last year, compared to just 24% for DeSantis.