(ORLANDO – Florida) If there is a “civil war” coming in the GOP, it is not evident at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Donald Trump remains the most important political leader of the Republican Party and the conservative movement in the United States, soundly defeating those who were betting on a collapse of that leadership after the takeover of Capitol Hill and the subsequent barrage of media attacks against him, in addition to Biden’s inauguration and the second impeachment process.
On February 25 the most recent edition of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) began. The CPAC is the most important event within the political ecosystem of the American right, which traditionally takes place in the city of Washington, but this year was moved to Orlando, perhaps in part to avoid the restrictions derived from the Covid-19 pandemic, and to send the signal of the popular governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, as the next great referent of the Republican Party.
DeSantis was the first speaker on the day of February 26, with a solid, interesting and well-received speech by the crowd by the attendees, although the most successful of the first morning was Ted Cruz, and the most popular moment of his speech was when he made reference to President Trump’s leadership and perseverance. Trump will be participating through Sunday, but his presence already dominates the atmosphere, bolstered by the presence of Donald Trump Jr. as one of the featured speakers on Friday the 26th.
Touring CPAC is to find Trump’s name and hope everywhere, whether it’s on the “Make America Great Again” masks, pins, banners, merchandise for sale and decorations worn by hundreds of attendees, he’s there. No other politician has a comparable presence. In fact, it would seem that the other leaderships have understood this reality and choose to leverage their own profiles on the respect and popularity that Trump generates.
The rest of CPAC, during this weekend, will confirm or disprove my initial perception, but so far it seems to me that Donald Trump is, by far, the leading candidate for 2024 and that, at least in the current scenario, the real internal contest will have to focus on who will be the figure that would accompany him as vice-presidential candidate.
Trump stands strong
One thing is indisputable: At CPAC, the sand castle built by the spokespersons and intellectuals of the technocracy that the 2020 electoral defeat would mean the end of the myth of Trump and his leadership is crumbling. On the contrary, such defeat, wrapped in the narrative of fraud and injustice committed against him, adds a layer of closeness that even strengthens his appeal in the eyes of a good part of the movement.
For millions in America, including at least half of CPAC attendees, Trump is a reference, not only because of his money or his positions, but because he represents their voices, embodies their hopes (and now also their defeats and their perseverance) with an authenticity difficult to find in other politicians.
To be very clear, Trump is not only an aspirational figure, but also an authentic inspiration, with whom conservative activists have developed a personal and emotional bond, the kind of closeness that is not abandoned anytime soon, so on Sunday the 28th, when he takes the CPAC stage, he will do so not as a general in defeat, but as a conquistador in the making, preparing the next campaign of conquest.
There are rumors that Trump will use his message to showcase traitors to his movement within the Republican Party leadership, and if so, those “leaders” should be very concerned about their political future, because of the following: Trump heads the soul of the Republican Party, far more than any committee leadership. That’s why he doesn’t need a third party, the GOP is still the party of Donald J. Trump, to the resigned despair of some and to the joy of many more.