Douglas Andrews / February 28, 2022

CPAC 2022: It’s Still Trump

The straw poll of attendees at the annual gathering of grassroots conservatives was unequivocal.

For anyone who was listening closely, Donald Trump all but announced his intention to run for president again in 2024. Speaking Saturday night at CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, he ripped into Joe Biden and vowed to return the Republican Party to power.

“The socialists, globalists, Marxists, and communists who are attacking our civilization have no idea of the sleeping giant they have awoken,” he said. “But they’re going to find out the hard way, starting on Nov. 8, and then again, even more so in November 2024, they will find out like never before. We did it twice and we’ll do it again. We’re going to be doing it again a third time.”

Nearly everybody who’s anyone in the conservative movement spoke at CPAC this weekend — with one exception: Mike Pence. For the second straight year, Donald Trump’s vice president declined an invitation to attend. Trump was there, though, as was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, and journalist Mollie Hemingway. If you’ve got some downtime, here’s a seven-hour reel of highlights from the conference:

The theme of CPAC 2022 was “Awake, Not Woke,” which CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp said is simply a sign of the times. “It is the theme of what’s going on in the country,” he said, “between what happened in the commonwealth of Virginia and in San Francisco and happened all across the country on Election Day last year … even in liberal communities, they were like, hey, parents aren’t domestic terrorists, cops aren’t evil, schools should educate kids and not just turn them into communists. The country is starting to wake up from this stupor of somehow if you’re white or you’re Christian, if you’re straight, if you’re a person of faith, if you love the country, you don’t have to be quiet — they’ve quieted us down because they feel like, well, you’re privileged, and that has caused people to kind of lay back, and I think that’s over.”

Accordingly, some of the panel sessions had titles such as “Domestic Terrorists Unite: Lessons from Virginia Parents,” “The First Amendment Fund: Defending the Canceled,” “Fire Fauci,” and “Woke, Inc.”

DeSantis, the governor of the host state, noted in his speech that the Free State of Florida has become an attractive home for so many not just because of its lower taxes but because folks are fleeing leftist governments elsewhere within this country. “Wokeism is a form of cultural Marxism,” he said. “It is not just about raising taxes and bad economic policy. It’s about tearing up the fabric of society and trying to replace it with something that will be much, much more sinister.”

The cultural and societal wars were center stage, then, but so were Joe Biden and the war in Ukraine, which Trump used to emphasize the importance of strong, competent American leadership:

The Daily Signal offers a brief snapshot of 14 takeaways from CPAC, but the highlight is invariably its annual straw poll, which, among other questions, asks attendees about their preference for the Republican presidential nomination in the next election. Here, Trump won easily, and those who expected a diminishment in support for him — at least from this crowd — were sorely disappointed.

Trump grabbed 59% of ballots cast in the anonymous online poll of 2,574 attendees, according to results announced by CPAC on Sunday afternoon. At last year’s event, also in Orlando, Trump won 55% of ballots. DeSantis, who attracted 28% of the ballots, was the only other candidate in double-digits.

DeSantis, who at this early stage is unquestionably the leading alternative to Trump, has repeatedly dismissed questions about a presidential run in 2024. Instead, he says he’s focused only on his job as governor and on winning a second term this November. This makes good sense. Winning reelection is Job One, and it’s the building block for whatever might come next.

Not surprisingly, he easily won a second CPAC straw poll question — the one that removed Trump from the ballot. DeSantis grabbed 61% of supporters on that question, with two-thirds of Trump supporters from the first question backing the Florida governor. Mike Pompeo finished third at 6.3%, with Donald Trump Jr. at 5.9%, Senators Cruz and Rand Paul at 3.3%, and Kristi Noem at 3.1%.

Trump’s margin of victory over DeSantis on the marquee question is even more remarkable when one considers the demographics of the voters. Buried within the breakdown of the straw poll’s voters is the fact that 37.2% of them were from Florida — meaning the results were overwhelmingly influenced by voters from the state that DeSantis currently governs. So those inclined to dismiss the straw poll results as indicative of DeSantis simply not having sufficient name recognition had better go back to the drawing board. These disproportionately young and ardent grassroots conservatives certainly know Governor DeSantis, and they certainly like him. But they love Trump.

Those who took the poll were also asked which three issues were most important to them. Here, the cultural issues took precedence over the economic ones. Election integrity was the most popular at 49.1%; immigration and the border wall at 47.6%; constitutional rights at 42.7%; inflation and cost of living at 26.6%; and taxes, budget, and spending came in at 16.2%.

Of course, Republicans are on the outside looking in, so they’re unable to enact any kind of an agenda — unless and until. “Our mission in 2022 and in 2024,” said Trump, “is to take on this radical and power-hungry ruling class and to deliver them an electoral defeat so resounding that they are exiled into political oblivion, never ever to return again.”

Sounds pretty good to us.

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