Fort Washington, Maryland — Former President Donald Trump will give the final major address at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Saturday evening, after winning the event’s traditional straw poll again.
Trump cleared the straw poll, which CPAC says 2,000 attendees completed, with 62% of the vote. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, thought of as Trump’s most formidable rival in part due to his history of fundraising and rankings in early polls on the primary, was second with 20% of the vote.
The event, which usually attracts a number of presidential hopefuls beginning to launch their campaigns, featured only the other two candidates who have declared their candidacy, former Ambassador to the U.N. and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Among the major GOP figures mulling a bid, only former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed the conference. Several of them skipped out on CPAC and instead appeared at a donor retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, hosted by the conservative group Club for Growth.
The absence of the other possible contenders did not escape Trump’s notice. He posted on Truth Social Thursday, “The only reason certain ‘candidates’ won’t be going to CPAC is because the crowds have no interest in anything they have to say. They’ve heard it all before, and don’t want to hear it again.”
The conference was filled with Trump allies and his former administration officials, both on the speaking lineup on the main stage and in the numerous conservative media booths that line the hallways.
Before his keynote speech, Trump gave remarks to a private gathering at the conference with VIP donors and Republican figures, such as unsuccessful Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and conservative commentator and lawyer Mark Levin.
From outside the room, he was heard saying he gets a subpoena “everytime I fly over a blue state.”
Greene, who has already announced she’s backing Trump, took questions from reporters Friday during which she criticized or dismissed Trump’s official and potential presidential primary opponents, such as Haley or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who did not attend the conference.
“It’s nice that they’re running, but they’re not going to win,” Greene predicted when she was asked about the Republican politicians who opted not to attend the conference.
Though he hasn’t announced an official 2024 campaign yet, DeSantis is considered Trump’s biggest threat in a primary. Trump and his campaign have already gone on the attack against the Florida governor he endorsed in 2018, regularly referring to him as “Ron DeSanctimonious” and running Facebook ads showing a photo of DeSantis and Trump with the caption: “Pictured: An Apprentice Learning from the Master.”
DeSantis has glossed over Trump’s criticism, and in a recent Fox News interview pointed to Trump’s 2018 support for him.
“Then I win a big victory and all of a sudden, you know, he had different opinions, and so you can take that for what it’s worth,” DeSantis told Fox News on Tuesday..
“I mean, he’s obviously a big, big fish, but I get attacked all the time from every different angle and you either put points on the board or you don’t. And so I just focus on delivering the wins. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of following through on our promises,” DeSantis added.
Haley, who spoke at CPAC on Friday and was greeted with chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” by his supporters as she was leaving the conference, took some shots at the former president during her remarks to the Club for Growth donor retreat on Saturday.
“The last two Republican presidents added more than $10 trillion to the national debt. Think about that. A third of our debt happened under just two Republicans,” said Haley, who has argued she represents the generational change needed for the party. “If we nominate another big spender in 2024, we’re going to lose.”
Laura Thilman, a Republican voter from Arizona, said while “it’s way too early” to pick a presidential primary candidate, she’d vote for Trump “if I had to vote today.”
“We need a president that’s going to come in and hit the ground running,” she said. “But here’s the deal, the best man wins. I’m not clairvoyant, I don’t know who that could be yet.”