Sixty-two per cent of attendees to the latest Conservative Political Action Conference want Trump to be the Republican candidate
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is billed as the largest gathering of conservative activists in the world.
Produced by the American Conservative Union, the annual extravaganza of politicians, activists, media personalities and devoted attendees was first held in the U.S. in 1974 and has since morphed into a worldwide phenomenon with CPAC events having been staged in Brazil, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Israel.
Having attended three CPACs, I’ve become accustomed to how fervent and outspoken conservatives are in the U.S.
They are not the shy conservatives we’re accustomed to in Canada.
When conservatives canvass door-to-door for votes during Canadian election campaigns, it’s not uncommon to be promised support with one condition: “I won’t take an election sign because I want to get along with my neighbours,” many will whisper.
Some known Canadian conservative voters won’t even reveal to canvassers how they intend to vote.
There are no quiet or shy conservatives in evidence at CPAC here at the cavernous Gaylord National Resort & Convention Centre in Fort Washington, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., where the conference was held from March 1 to March 5.
These conservatives are loud and proud and announce their conservative convictions with religious-style zeal.
And if their ‘religion’ has a spiritual leader, it would be none other than the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.
Most of the attendees believe it is Trump and only Trump who can repair the ills of America and lead them to the promised land.
Beaumont, Texas, shop owner Michael Manual Reaud said he came to CPAC mainly to promote Trump as a candidate for president in 2024.
“I was a Democrat for 35 years, and during the summer of 2020 I realized where this country was headed, with criminals burning and looting small businesses. I decided that’s not the party I wanted to be affiliated with,” said Reaud, who’s part of a group called the Trump Tribe from Texas. Each member wears a getup with a large red letter which, together, spells out T-R-U-M-P.
His big issue is the massive number of illegals crossing into the U.S. “We need President Trump back in office to close the border wall,” he said.
Katie Taylor from the San Diego, California area is another disciple of the Trump gospel.
“My main reason for being here is to convince these RINOS (Republicans in Name Only) that it has to be Donald J. Trump for 2024,” says Taylor. Taylor attended the January 6 protest in the Capitol following the last presidential election and said it “was the proudest day of my life.”
Taylor figures Trump is the obvious candidate for 2024 in part “because he already fixed our problems once.”
A woman wearing a cowboy hat sporting the slogan “Trump Won” is also a proud member of the former president’s flock.
She says illegal border crossings are “ruining our country” and reckons Trump will solve the issue.
“Our family came to New Mexico when I was seven years old,” she says. “But we immigrated the legal way.”
If Trump was top of mind at the conservative schmooze-fest, there were still lots of other official and unofficial sources of entertainment, including scores of speakers like Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, author Candace Owens, Trump campaign architect Steve Bannon and former president of Brazil Eduardo Bolsonaro.
But heading the whole show was Trump, who was given the coveted wrap-up spot Saturday evening for his keynote speech.
As usual, there was a crush of media at this year’s CPAC, including conservative news personalities, podcast show hosts and other activists. There was even a head-turning, Trump-supporting drag queen who goes by the name Lady MAGA. (People-watching at CPAC is the ultimate spectator sport.)
Dozens of exhibitors at this year’s CPAC this years ran the gamut from Coalition Against Socialized Medicine, to Judicial Watch, to the Liberty Cigar Company, to Atheists for Liberty. The latter group seemed to show a certain measure of inclusiveness – offering lapel buttons for atheists AND for agnostics reading: “Conservative Atheist” and “Conservative Agnostic.”
The most popular and plentiful trade show sales items were (you guessed it) Trump merchandise. Caps, hats and flags boasted slogans such as “Fresh Baked Socialism – Let’s Starve Together,” “Build the Wall,” “Finish the Wall,” “I Don’t Need Sex – Joe Biden Screws Me Every Day,” “Trump Won,” and “Jesus is My Saviour – Trump is My President.”
Trump’s keynote wrap-up speech didn’t disappoint his MAGA faithful with a no-holds-barred, nearly two-hour tirade that drew numerous rounds of applause and was frequently punctuated with chants of “U-S-A!, U-S-A.!”
As an announced candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, Trump said he was the one man who could “rescue our country from those who want to destroy it” before it becomes “a filthy Communist country.”
He criticized Democratic President Joe Biden for allowing millions of people to stream into the country illegally and vowed to finish the border wall. If re-elected president, he said, “we will shut down the illegal border.”
He drew huge applause when calling Joe Biden and Hunter Biden “criminals.”
He boasted that he was the only president who didn’t start a major war or have important ally territory taken. He also took a jab at Biden’s diminishing – according to critics – mental capacity. “If something was taken,” said Trump, “he wouldn’t even notice it was gone.”
Trump also claimed that had he still been president, there wouldn’t be a war in Ukraine because Russian President Vladimir Putin respects and fears him. He added that he’s the one person who can “prevent World War Three.”
The audience applauded loudly when he promised that, if elected president, he’d undertake “the largest deportation of illegals in American history,” and would especially delight in targeting MS-13 gang members. MS-13 is an international criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s.
There were more cheers when he promised to “ban gender mutilation” of children, “keep men out of women’s sports,” “bring back free speech in America,” “demolish woke tyranny,” hold China responsible for Coronavirus, and “send in the National Guard” to cities where there’s “little or no law and order.”
He slammed the fact that some January 6 Capitol Hill rioters are still being held in jail, adding, “for those who have been wronged or betrayed, I will be your retribution.”
Trump’s messaging clearly resonated with the CPAC flock.
Each year the conference does a straw poll of attendees asking them a handful of key questions.
About 2,000 delegates participated in the CPAC poll this year, and the answer to one key question showed just how influential Trump is with the conservative base in the U.S.
When asked who they want as the Republican candidate for the White House in 2024, 62 per cent voted for Trump. His nearest competitor was Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, the pick of 20 per cent of those surveyed.
Trump’s popularity with his conservative faithful actually improved from the 2022 CPAC straw poll. Last year in Desantis’s home state of Florida, Trump earned 59 per cent support for a White House run compared to 28 per cent for Desantis.
Kerry Diotte is a veteran Canadian journalist, conservative activist, twice-elected member of Parliament and former city councillor.
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