CPAC is disliked by the Republican elite. Nevertheless, the conservative conference is more than simply the major event for Donald Trump and his campaign team; it’s also a significant early test of his political mettle.
This year’s conference in National Harbor is anticipated to be a Trump-fest as he bids for the GOP presidential nomination. It will be an opportunity to once again flaunt his power over the conservative activist movement. If the conference this weekend is anything like the previous ones, Trump is getting ready to enjoy the limelight. Yet, that also puts more on the line for him. His hold on the GOP may be slipping if he performs poorly in the audience or in the CPAC straw poll, according to rumours.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 8, 2021
With this, or anything he does right now, “obviously he has a lot on the line,” a Republican consultant named Dave Carney said of Trump’s presence at CPAC. “Everyone is searching for fissures. When you’re in first place, every function you attend takes on significance.
There are already hints that this year’s CPAC may not be off to the best of starts. Republicans are anticipating a lesser turnout, and at least two attendees claim they received a call this week about purchasing a $375 ticket to the main Ronald Reagan Dinner, where Trump ally and former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake would be the featured speaker.
Trump is attempting to secure a straw poll of the Republican candidates for 2024 once more this year. The four-day extravaganza will come to a close with his speech to a packed house of adoring fans on Saturday night, which is expected to last well over an hour. The sight of a sea of red hats and life-size cardboard cutouts will serve as visual evidence for Trump that he continues to be the head of the conservative movement. This year’s CPAC is Trump’s opportunity to establish himself as the front-runner rather than an opportunity for a large field of potential presidential candidates to woo supporters.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is likely to be his strongest opponent in a GOP primary, is boycotting CPAC along with other possible 2024 contenders and key Republican officials. At a retreat organised by the anti-tax organisation Club for Growth, former vice president Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott will congregate with DeSantis and other GOP presidential contenders behind closed doors at The Breakers, an opulent Palm Beach resort. Trump was not extended an invitation.
The only candidates who will appear at both events are biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, the other two leading declared candidates for president.
CPAC used to be the hub for Republican grassroots activists and would draw a diverse group of conservative leaders. Nevertheless, during the Trump administration, it effectively changed into a branch of the MAGA movement, which is wholly representative of the party’s America First, populist wing. Trump-related panels at the event this year include “Complete the Wall, Build the Dome” and “They Took It From Us Legally,” which are both referencing the 2020 election.
The influence of CPAC on establishment Republicans seems to have diminished for reasons other than the fact that it has a tight relationship with Trump. The conservative party is also dealing with a significant PR issue as a result of charges of sexual assault made against its leader, Matt Schlapp, by a member of the Republican campaign staff. Schlapp and his wife Mercedes were sued in January by the alleged victim, a former worker for Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign. The pair has denied wrongdoing.