Orlando, Florida, United States – Regardless of whether Donald Trump is mounting a third White House campaign in 2024, it became clear over the weekend that the former President of the United States still holds the Republican Party firmly. However, despite overwhelming support, there are signs that some diehard Trump supporters are ready to see someone other than Trump become the future of his political movement.
Over four days, culminating with Trump’s first post-presidential election speech On Sunday, Republican officials, lawmakers and activists gathered with Trump’s most ardent supporters at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, the largest annual Republican political gathering in the country. In his speech, Trump teased that he was open to another presidential run, but vowed he would not quit the Republican Party to do so.
The conference was full of signs that Trump has already remade the Republican Party in his image. Attendees donned Trump hats, t-shirts and bags. They posed for photos with his son, Donald Trump Jr, and former Trump campaign advisers. During the roundtables, speakers falsely argued that Democrats stole the presidential election, a belief widely held among Trump supporters.
Ahead of Trump’s arrival on Sunday, thousands of people wearing “Make America Great Again” costumes and waving Trump flags gathered on the sidewalks along the route of his motorcade. A life-size golden statue of Trump that had been displayed inside the conference was carried to a nearby corner among the crowds. An advertising truck rolled like a parade with a sign reading “JANUARY 6 REUNION!” a reference to the Washington rally that culminated with Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol building and attacking police.
Some ready to move on
A secret ballot poll of conference attendees showed 55% would support Trump if he ran again, when faced with more than 20 other possible Republican candidates.
Trump’s 55% figure seemed surprisingly low to political observers, given that 97% of attendees expressed approval for Trump’s presidential term. The poll also found that only about two-thirds of attendees said they wanted to see Trump run for president again. Instead, some said they wanted to see a new candidate continue Trump’s policies instead.
When asked who they would support if Trump did not turn up, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who opposed lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, led the way list with 43% and 11% respectively. Support for all other potential candidates, including well-known Republicans like former Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Ted Cruz, has fallen to single digits.
“I support the movement that Donald Trump created. The reality is that Trump as the candidate is an 80-year-old man, ”said Cliff Vandenbosch, a Trump supporter from Venice, Florida, who wore a black t-shirt that read,“ I’d rather receive COVID-10 than Biden-20 ”waving an American flag attached to a fishing rod. (Trump will be 78 in the next presidential election in 2024.) “He comes and goes. I think the movement he created can do a lot more.
Sandy Stegmaier, a Trump supporter from Madeira Beach, Florida, said she would vote for Trump again in 2024, but was also open to finding a new candidate to carry on her legacy.
“What I like about Trump is that he says it as is, he’s not censored,” Stegmaier said. “We’re not going to be able to replace Trump, but you need someone with that passion.”
Trump’s grip on GOP
Even if he does not show up, Trump, who received more than 74 million votes in November, can still wield tremendous power over the party’s nomination contest. Trump announced on Sunday that he would channel this energy against Republicans who were disloyal to him.
“It’s not Donald Trump that the Republican Party should be afraid of. It’s his base, ”said Russell Lane, a college-aged Trump supporter who traveled to Florida from southern California with his father to see the former president. “The 70 million people who support him. You don’t take Trump, you attack his base, his frustrated and angry base.
During his speech, Trump called on Republicans who criticized him publicly, including the Representative Liz cheney and leader of the minority in the Senate Mitch mcconnell – calling them “RINO” or “Republicans in name only” – and urged his supporters to work to end their political careers.
“The RINOs we are surrounded by will destroy the Republican Party and the American worker and destroy our country itself,” Trump said Sunday night in a crowded conference room. “Get rid of them all.”
Many Republican leaders seem to get the message. Speakers at the conference, including lawmakers with possible future presidential ambitions, poured adoration on Trump and appeared to adopt his style without excuse. On stage, they punctuated speeches with declarations that they would neither “back down” or “apologize”.
“He is back!” said Nancy Freeman, a GOP activist from Collier County, Florida. “He went after the RINOS and gave us our marching orders to pursue them.
Supporter Sandy Stegmaier, who said she attended the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on January 6 that preceded the U.S. Capitol riot – although she noted that she had not entered Capitol Hill – a said she would never support a Republican candidate who says President Joe Biden rightfully won the election.
“It’s now Trump’s Republican Party,” she said. “The RINOs are going to disappear. We are not going to vote for RINOs. It must be Trump’s Conservative Party whether or not he runs in 2024.