National Harbor, Md, – Trumpism was on full display at the Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend as thousands gathered for the four-day conference at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland. Support for former President Donald Trump was more reminiscent of an incumbent President than that of an open-primary candidate, which Trump is currently running as in the 2024 election.
“Trump’s numbers are baked in,” said life-long Republican Todd Tibbetts from Georgia. “Everybody knows who he is and what they get when they get Trump. Let me tell you, he’s the nominee.”
CPAC attendees participated in a straw poll to select their preferred Republican presidential nominee. Trump won 62% of the vote, followed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is yet to announce his candidacy, at 20%. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who received a lukewarm welcome from the crowd during her speech on Friday, came in at 3%. Conservative entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who is also running for president and spoke at CPAC, received 1%.
Waning allegiance to the establishment.
In her remarks, which were sandwiched between speeches from Donald Trump Jr. and Lara Trump, Haley did little to distinguish herself from Donald Trump. She echoed the same criticisms of President Joe Biden, the “wokeness virus” and socialist Democrats, that were expressed by many speakers. She did note that the Republican party had lost seven of the last eight presidential elections, thereby acknowledging Trump’s defeat in 2020 – a fact contrary to the beliefs of some attendees.
“Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans,” Haley said. “That ends now. If you’re tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation.”
On her way out of the ballroom, Haley was met with chants of “We love Trump.” For some, Haley is tethered to the Republican party “establishment,” which they felt no longer properly represented their vision for America.
“The old Republican party is dead. That’s why you see a strong patriotic MAGA movement,” said Elisabeth Bialas and Paul Dowling, who both attended Trump’s rally at the ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021. “We have no loyalty to the Republican party. We’re patriotic conservatives, not Republicans.”
Other attendees feared that abandoning “traditional” Republicans like Haley would create an electability issue for the party’s nominee in 2024.
“If we disconnect ourselves from Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo, we are not pro-Republican,” said Maria Duncan who just moved from Florida to Maryland and identified herself as a Trump supporter. “If you’re a true Republican, you don’t just support Trump.”
“I think January 6th left a stain on [Trump’s] presidency which is the baggage that he is going to have to deal with to win a general election,” said Zachary Wanuga from Maryland.
Wanuga, 22, has been to CPAC four times and said there is no substantial difference between the policies of Haley, DeSantis and Trump. If it came down to it, Wanuga said he would support DeSantis over Trump because he is more electable.
Fox under fire.
Along with the party establishment, a popular cry was for renouncing loyalty to Fox News. In previous years, Fox sponsored CPAC, but the network opted out this year.
In one of the most well-received speeches of the weekend, former Trump advisor Steve Bannon claimed that Fox had turned on the “MAGA” movement. He specifically targeted Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch.
“Murdoch, you’ve deemed Trump’s not going to be president, but we deem that you’re not going to have a network, because we’re going to fight you every step of the way,” Bannon declared to the cheering crowd. “You’ve disrespected Donald Trump for long enough.”
Bannon said that Fox betrayed Trump when they called the 2020 election for Biden, and the “nation has never recovered.”
Following Bannon’s speech, Texan and first-time CPAC attendee Adrian Ireugas said he stopped watching Fox after the network declared Biden the winner of Virginia during the 2020 presidential election. Biden beat Trump in Virginia by 451,138 votes, but Ireugas baselessly claimed the election results were unfair.
“[Fox] lost their credibility,” said Ireugas, “I think they’re team America, but they’re old school like Nikki Haley. They’re not grounded anymore.”
Now, Ireugas gets his news from conservative alternatives such as Newsmax, Revolver News and The Michael Savage Show.
Many far right news outlets lined the hall outside of the ballroom at CPAC, hosting live shows with guests such as Trump Jr., former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.
The grande finale.
The crowd grew in size and enthusiasm over the weekend as attendees eagerly anticipated Trump’s Saturday evening speech. In a not-quite-full ballroom, the former President spoke for one-hour and 45-minutes, repeating familiar talking points, falsehoods and dire consequences for the nation if he is not elected.
“Either they win or we win. And if they win, we no longer have a country,” Trump said.
He described a dystopian America under the control of democrats, globalists and those who oppose him.
“The sinister forces trying to kill America have done everything they can to stop me, to silence you, and to turn this nation into a socialist dumping ground for criminals, junkies, Marxists, thugs, radicals and dangerous refugees that no other country wants,” Trump told the crowd. “If those opposing us succeed, our once-beautiful USA will be a failed country that no one will even recognize – a lawless, open-borders, crime-ridden, filthy, communist nightmare.”
The ominous messaging did not dissuade the crowd from erupting into applause and standing from their seats throughout the speech.
“They’re not coming after me; they’re coming after you, and I’m just standing in their way,” he said. “This is the final battle.”