I wasn’t at either of them -- referring to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference,
better known as CPAC -- but it’s a solid guess that the atmosphere at this year’s event was significantly different than last year’s.
2020’s version, you may recall, was held at its typical location in Maryland within shouting distance of the nation’s capital. This year’s extravaganza was conducted 800-odd miles south in sunny Orlando, Florida due to the Sunshine state’s friendlier and more realistic approach to dealing with COVID-19 restrictions. 2020 featured a triumphant President Trump poised to lead his reelection effort against a disjointed Democrat party’s nominee who looked to be either radical socialist Bernie Sanders or doddering compromise establishment candidate Joe Biden.
The incumbent’s 2020 speech was typical Trumpian with dozens of applause lines and the undaunted confidence that endeared him to tens of millions of conservatives across the country. The day might’ve marked the apex of his presidency (I would vote for Trump’s SOTU speech earlier in the month, however).
Super Tuesday was a few days’ hence and the Democrat race was still in doubt. News reports of the mysterious Chinese virus were becoming more prevalent, but it wasn’t yet the full-on panic that ensued a couple weeks later when Trump called for “15 Days to Stop the Spread” and asked Americans to stay home and sacrifice for one another. One (or more?) members of the CPAC audience got sick and tested positive for the virus. Did they come in contact with Trump? Who should quarantine? Was everyone in danger?
What a difference a year makes. Trump eventually contracted the virus, survived it without too much trouble and lost the election (or was denied by fraud, still yet to be determined definitively either way). Trillions were spent to beat the modern plague and thus far, half a million Americans succumbed with the virus. Democrats played the hysteria to their full advantage. Hidin’ Biden is now president.
The former president took the stage yesterday for his first post-presidency major speech. It looked like he hadn’t lost a step, and for a few fleeting moments it almost seemed as though he were still president. A terrific feeling, like elixir to a festering, open wound. Predictably the media is in full hyper-spasm over what he said.
Trump wasn’t perfect. The first hour or so was terrific. He stuck to a script of attacking Biden’s policies and contrasting them with his own. And he lauded his accomplishments, which were impressive. Trump also made an impassioned plea for elections integrity, which was right on point and effective. The only moments I thought he lost the audience was when he claimed again, for the umpteenth time, that he won the election by a landslide. It may be true (or could be true), but why blast the courts for not taking the case? It detracted from his message.
That ship has sailed. Keep the discussion on Biden and what Trump’s agenda would do for Americans. Then, the B+ I gave the speech would be a solid A. The first part of the address felt like 2016 again. That’s where Trump is at his best.
Here, it would be better to focus on the meaning of Trump’s reemergence and the prospects for a Republican victory in 2024. Even over-the-top Trump-hater Sen. Mitt Romney said the last White House occupant would have little trouble claiming the party nomination if he chose to run again in three years. Mike Brest reported at The Washington Examiner:
“Utah Sen. Mitt Romney might be the only Republican to vote to convict former President Donald Trump in both of his impeachment trials, but he still said the former commander in chief could win another presidential primary...
“’Will President Trump continue to play a role in my party? I’m sure he will, he has by far the largest voice and a big impact in my party,’ the 2012 Republican presidential nominee said. ‘I don’t know about his family members, whether they intend to do that. But I expect he will continue playing a role. I don’t know if he’ll run in 2024 or not, but if he does, I’m pretty sure he will win the nomination.’
“’A lot can happen between now and 2024, and I’m not great at predicting,’ Romney said at a New York Times DealBook virtual event. ‘I look at the polls, and the polls show that among the names being floated as potential contenders in 2024, if you put President Trump in there among Republicans, he wins in a landslide.’”
It was very surprising to hear Mitt utter such a flattering assessment without including some sort of barb or insult towards his political nemesis and the man’s supporters. Romney conceded he’s not very good at predicting, but even he acknowledged the writing on the wall. Of course, Teflon Rom is the only GOPer to have voted twice to convict Trump of Nancy Pelosi’s trumped-up indictments for high crimes and misdemeanors. Maybe he’s hoping the Utah Republican base will show him a little mercy at renominating time if he quits the bashing and lecturing now.
Or perhaps he’s attempting to lower the temperature of Republicans towards turncoats. Romney probably wasn’t within a thousand miles of Orlando this weekend. If he’d dared to show his flip-flopping face among the real conservatives at CPAC, he might’ve needed an escort to save him the hearing loss from those shrieking for him to exit.
Everyone wonders what Trump will do about 2024, but for now, there are a few things that appear certain. First, reports on the death of the relationship between Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence, have been greatly exaggerated. Pence chose not to speak at CPAC but it likely wasn’t because there’s an ongoing spat between the political power pair. Pence talked with members of the House Republican Study Committee last week and apparently had nothing but good things to say about his former boss.
If there’s anyone who could potentially challenge in 2024 (if Trump opts not to run), Pence would be in the conversation to do it. The Indiana native wouldn’t help his cause by disparaging the most popular Republican in the land. Pence must realize it’s to his advantage to be tied to MAGA. And if he once again is seen as the loyal lieutenant and gets Trump’s backing, Romney might be talking about a Pence shoe-in candidacy and landslides in a couple years’ time.
Another observation -- Trump is perceived and treated as a conquering hero. Contrast conservatives’ and Republicans’ current warm feelings for Trump with the tepid but respectful appreciation for the last party member to live in the White House. President George W. Bush left office in semi-disgrace, not only for his mindless advocacy and prosecution of the Iraq War quagmire but also for his trampling on conservative principles regarding immigration and big corporate bailouts after the housing bubble burst in the fall of 2008.
Bush left office with historic lows in national approval rating, primarily because he’d betrayed a Republican base that had stuck with him through two difficult terms. As the establishment’s manipulated puppet, Bush didn’t know how to communicate with conservatives and there was no great feeling of loss when he flew away on Air Force One for the final time.
By their reaction to Trump yesterday, it’s obvious that conservatives still admire the New Yorker’s fighting spirit and willingness to mix it up with the liberal party’s band of socialism-peddling opportunists.
Other potential 2024 candidates were also in Orlando. According to the Washington Examiner, there was Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley; South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem; former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; and Florida Sen. Rick Scott. Don Jr. also spoke.
Considering the setback in the 2020 election, the continued influence of COVID-19 and the still lingering effects of the January 6 riot, there was no sign of quit in the conservatives who attended this year’s CPAC event. Donald Trump is still very much king of the conservative hill and the months and years ahead will be fascinating to behold.
2024 GOP primaries