CPAC members are showing interest in DeSantis to run in the presidential election

Orlando, FL (The hill) – Former President Donald Trump may be a major event at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), but the meeting was also greatly facilitated by the Governor of Florida. Ron DeSantisStar power in the Republican Party is growing.

Conference participants have repeatedly pointed to Trump as their top choice for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. But many have also expressed a deepening interest in DeSantis, whom they see as Trump’s ultimate successor and future presidential candidate, especially if Trump decides against another campaign in the White House.

Interest in DeSantis was evident on Thursday when a crowd of curious visitors gathered in the main conference room before his speech before leaving immediately after he finished. At several points during his remarks, the crowd stood in applause. Just down the hall, a man was holding a sign reading “DeSantisland.”

Thomas Long, a 51-year-old contractor from New York, said that while he hopes Trump will run again in 2024, he was drawn to DeSantis because of the Florida governor’s tough stance on issues such as vaccine mandates and critical theory race.

“The landing party is a very powerful man,” Longa said. “I would prefer that at this point he is a potential president in the 28th.”

“I would still like to see Trump go in the 24th,” he added. “But I think Trump is human enough to know that if he is unable to do so, I think Trump will support DeSantis. I really do, personally. “

Another participant, Rebecca Schmigdal of Naples, Florida, said Trump was the first candidate to come to mind when it comes to the race for the White House in 2024, adding that she would prefer to keep DeSantis in the governor’s mansion. for a long time. ” we can. “

“I don’t want DeSantis to leave us yet,” she said. “I think in the end he probably will. But I think it’s more important now to have a strong voice for governors. “

But Schmigdal, who is attending her third CPAC, also said Trump could not stay at the helm of the conservative movement forever, noting that “at some point someone will have to take away that job from him and take over and make it live longer.”

“If someone else speaks – probably not in the 24th, but in the 28th – if someone else comes up and says, ‘I’m going to continue this policy,’ I think it would be weird,” she said.

However, some participants were less interested in the idea of ​​Trump’s return. Simon Malina 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 leaders” in the Republican Party, pointing to DeSantis as an option.

However, he said he was not sure that DeSantis would rule in 2024.

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

Asked about Trump’s potential bid in 2024, Malina Herrera said that if the former president runs again, he is likely to vote for another candidate in the primaries.

“When he runs, he runs,” Malina Herrera said. “I mean, I’m not sure if I’m going to vote for him in the primaries. But if he proves to be the overall candidate in the 2024 election, I think I can support him. Let’s see how everything goes. “

The conference – the largest annual gathering of conservative activists, writers and elected officials in the country – leaves no doubt that Trump still keeps the Republican Party at the bottom.

The red hats of “Make America Great Again,” which became the symbol of his two presidential campaigns, were a common sight in the CPAC. There were still signs and flags with slogans like “Trump has won” – a reference to his baseless claim that he was robbed of the 2020 election – and “Trump 2024”.

And speaker after speaker paid tribute to the former president. Max Miller, an Ohio congressional candidate and former Trump aide, began his speech on Thursday, saying Trump was “right about everything.” MP Andy Biggs (R-Ariza) insisted that the former president “lit the fire of freedom”.

Meanwhile, at CPAC Central, the conference’s main market, one vendor set Trump’s life-size cardboard expression reminiscent of Rambo, and in the background stood a cartoon gold statue of the former president.

But DeSantis also received a complete cure for the rock star. Before taking the stage on Thursday, CPAC Chairman Matt Shlap praised the governor of Florida, saying he had “taken all the right steps – you name the topic”. Then came a video in which DeSantis confronts a handful of national Democrats, including President Biden and Georgia Gov. Candidate for Stacey Abrams.

Sol Anuzis, a longtime Republican strategist and former Michigan Republican chairman who has attended the CPAC for decades, said growing interest in DeSantis among conference attendees is not necessarily born out of fatigue or dislike of Trump, but rather out of a fresh personality. which may continue the political movement caused by the former president.

“I’ll be interested to see, even if people like Trump, do they want to move on?” Said Anusis. “And I think that’s where the appeal of DeSantis comes from – maybe it’s time for a new generation. Maybe it’s time for a new leadership. “

One of the key indicators of Trump’s strength among conservative grassroots will be revealed on Sunday, when the results of the annual CPAC poll will be published. This straw poll will measure whether participants want the former president to run again, as well as how other potential candidates are doing.

Last year’s poll, conducted just over a month after Trump left office, found the former president was the favorite to win the 2024 nomination, gaining a 34-point lead over second-placed DeSantis. But the same straw poll found that only 68 percent of participants wanted Trump to run again.

DeSantis has brushed aside speculation about the election in 2024, insisting that he focuses only on his role as governor and is running for re-election this year. However, he still needs to follow the example of several other potential presidential candidates who have vowed not to run for the Republican Party if Trump launches another campaign.

One Republican strategist who did not attend the CPAC this year said it was unlikely that DeSantis would challenge Trump in the presidential primaries.

But if this year’s poll shows any decline in Trump support, it could signal a potential revelation for other potential Republicans in 2024, such as DeSantis, the strategist said.

“If it comes back and shows that Trump maintains his support or increases it, it should tell some of these people that 2024 may not be in the plans,” the questionnaire said. “But I think there were a few signs that he wasn’t as strong as before. Enthusiasm is there, especially in a place like CPAC, but it just goes so far. ”

DeSantis is not the only potential 2024 that hopes to appear at CPAC this year. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mark Rubio (R-Fla.), Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Governor of South Dakota Christy Noah everyone spoke at the event. Trump is scheduled to perform in prime time on CPAC on Saturday night.

However, Trump remains an “800-pound gorilla in the room,” Anuzis said, adding that his propensity to attack anyone he considers political opponents – real or imagined – means other Republicans interested in a potential 2024 race. , will have to tread. slightly.

“You have to be polite,” Anuzis said. “If he decides to run, he will win the primaries. Everyone knows that. ”

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