CPAC attendees express interest in DeSantis for presidential race – Queen City News

ORLANDO, Fla. (The Hill) — Former President Donald Trump may be the main event at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), but the rally also highlighted the governor’s growing power of Florida Ron DeSantis in the GOP.

Conference attendees repeatedly named Trump their first choice for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. But many also expressed growing interest in DeSantis, whom they see as a possible Trump successor and future presidential candidate. , especially if Trump decides not to participate in another White House campaign.

Interest in DeSantis was clear Thursday as throngs of curious attendees packed into the main conference room ahead of his speech before quickly leaving after he finished. At several points during his speech, the crowd rose to applaud. Just down the hall, a man was holding a sign that read “DeSantisland.”

Thomas Longo, a 51-year-old entrepreneur from New York, said while he hopes Trump will run again in 2024, he was drawn to DeSantis because of the Florida governor’s hardline stance on issues such as term limits. vaccination and critical race theory.

“DeSantis is a very powerful man,” Longo said. “He is hopefully a potential president in 28, I would prefer, at this point.”

“I would still like to see Trump get into it in 24,” he added. “But I think Trump is man enough to know that if he’s not able to do it, I think Trump would support DeSantis. I really do, personally.

Another participant, Rebecca Schmigdall of Naples, Florida, said Trump was the first candidate that came to mind when it came to the 2024 race for the White House, adding that she would prefer to keep DeSantis in the mansion. of the governor “as long as we can.”

“I don’t want DeSantis to leave us again,” she said. “I think he will probably end up doing it. But I think having a strong voice for governors is more important right now.

But Schmigdall, who is attending his third CPAC, also said Trump can’t stay at the helm of the conservative movement forever, noting that “at some point someone will have to take this job from him and take it over.” and bring it to life”. Longer.

“If someone else steps in — probably not 24 but 28 — if someone else steps up and says, ‘I’m going to continue these policies,’ I think that would be amazing,” she said. .

Some attendees, however, were less enthusiastic about a return offer from Trump. Simon Molina Herrera, a student at the University of Maryland, College Park, and campus coordinator for the conservative group Turning Points USA, said he looks forward to “a new generation of leadership” in the Republican Party, pointing to DeSantis as an option.

Still, he said he wasn’t sure of a 2024 run by DeSantis.

“Ron DeSantis was one of the greatest governors in the country — keeping all businesses open, keeping the state open,” he said. “He’s really great for a presidential candidate, but I think he should run for 2028.”

Asked about a possible Trump candidacy in 2024, Molina Herrera said that if the former president ran again, he would most likely vote for another candidate in the primary.

“If he runs, he runs,” said Molina Herrera. “I mean, I don’t know exactly if I will vote for him in the primaries. But if he ends up as an overall candidate in the 2024 election, I think I could support him. We’ll see how everything goes.

The conference — the nation’s largest annual gathering of conservative activists, writers and elected officials — leaves no doubt about the influence Trump still wields on the GOP base.

The red “Make America Great Again” hats that have become a symbol of his two presidential campaigns were commonplace at CPAC. There were still signs and flags emblazoned with slogans like “Trump won” – a reference to his baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him – and “Trump 2024”.

And speaker after speaker paid tribute to the former president. Max Miller, a congressional candidate from Ohio and former Trump aide, opened his remarks Thursday by proclaiming that Trump was “right about everything.” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Arizona) insisted the former president had “ignited the bushfires of freedom.”

Meanwhile, in ‘CPAC Central’, the conference’s main market, a vendor set up a life-size cardboard cutout of Trump resembling Rambo, while a cartoonish gold statue of the former president stood behind. -plan.

But DeSantis also got the full rock star treatment. Before taking the stage Thursday, CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp praised the Florida governor, saying he “made the right call – you name it.” A video then emerged showing DeSantis taking on a handful of National Democrats, including President Biden and Georgia Governor hopeful Stacey Abrams.

Saul Anuzis, a longtime Republican strategist and former Michigan GOP chairman who attended CPAC for decades, said the growing interest in DeSantis among conference attendees wasn’t necessarily born out of weariness. or a dislike of Trump, but rather a desire for a new face who can continue the political movement the former president helped spark.

“For me, what will be interesting to see is that even if people like Trump, do they want to move on?” said Anuzis. “And I think that’s where the appeal of DeSantis comes from – that maybe it’s time for a new generation. Maybe it’s time for some new leadership.

A key indicator of Trump’s strength among the conservative base will come out Sunday, when the results of CPAC’s annual poll are released. This straw poll will measure whether participants want to see the former president run again, as well as the performance of other potential candidates.

Last year’s Straw Poll, conducted just over a month after Trump quit, found the former president as the clear favorite to win the 2024 nomination, scoring a 34-point lead over second-placed , DeSantis. But the same straw poll showed only 68% of participants wanted to see Trump run again.

DeSantis has brushed off speculation of a 2024 run, insisting he is solely focused on his role as governor and running for re-election this year. Nonetheless, he has yet to follow the example of several other presidential candidates who have pledged not to seek the GOP nomination if Trump mounts another campaign.

A GOP strategist, who did not attend CPAC this year, said DeSantis is highly unlikely to challenge Trump in a presidential primary.

But if this year’s poll shows an erosion of support for Trump, it could signal a potential opening for other potential 2024 Republicans, like DeSantis, the strategist said.

“If this thing comes back and shows that Trump is maintaining his support or increasing it, that should kind of tell some of these other people that 2024 might not be in the cards,” the pollster said. “But I think there have been some signs that it’s not as strong as it used to be. The excitement is there, especially at a place like CPAC, but it’s not going far.

DeSantis isn’t the only potential 2024 prospect making an appearance at CPAC this year. The senses. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem all spoke at the event. Trump is expected to give a prime-time speech to CPAC on Saturday night.

Still, Trump remains “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” Anuzis said, adding that his penchant for attacking anyone he perceives as a political rival — real or imagined — means other Republicans interested in a possible race in 2024 will have to walk. slightly.

“You have to be polite,” Anuzis said. “If he decides to run, he wins the primary. Everybody knows it.”

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