ORLANDO, Fla. — The man who lost the House, the Senate and the White House in his single term in office and then tried to overthrow the republic to remain in power has nevertheless tightened his grip on the activists who attend the highest-profile annual event in Republican politics.
Among attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend, 85% said they would support former President Donald Trump if he ran for the White House in 2024 — up from 68% who a year ago said they wanted him to run again.
“Nothing has faded for the president,” said John McLaughlin, a former Trump pollster who conducted the electronic, app-based survey for CPAC.
In the straw poll ballot, Trump beat Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis 59% to 28% this year, with none of the other candidates cracking 2%. A year ago, Trump was beating DeSantis 55% to 21%, with no other candidate exceeding 4%.
In a separate poll question that excluded Trump’s name, DeSantis took 61% at this year’s event, with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump Jr. tied for second at 6% each.
A year ago, DeSantis received 43%, with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem getting 11%, Trump Jr. 8% and Pompeo 7%.
The CPAC poll was open to registered attendees ― tickets were $295 for the four-day conference ― and the event has become a Trump festival since he took office, with Trump T-shirts, hats and other paraphernalia everywhere. This year, 2,574 attendees cast ballots.
In other polls, Trump still leads over other Republicans, but not as overwhelmingly. In a Rasmussen survey last week, for example, Trump was only at 47% as the choice of Republican primary voters in 2024. DeSantis came in second at 20%, with Liz Cheney, a Wyoming congresswoman and a fierce Trump critic, coming in third at 7%.
Even at the CPAC venue, there was some appetite for non-Trump candidates and a competitive primary. “I would like Trump to run, but I would like to see others run as well,” said Florida retiree Gary McClintock, 68, who rattled off Noem, DeSantis, Pompeo and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as names he’d like to see in the mix. In fact, he said, it might even be better for the party for someone else to win the nomination. “I’d like Trump to run, but I think he could do a lot from the sidelines.”
For others, the choice was clear: If Trump ends up not running, it should be DeSantis.
Wilma May, an energy industry lawyer in Texas, said she likes Cruz, Pompeo, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Sen. Rick Scott just fine. “But I’m not into liking. I’m into winning,” she said, adding that DeSantis could win in November 2024, while the others could not.
Megan Sgroi, a nursing student at the University of Tampa, would also like it to be DeSantis if it cannot be Trump, but said she is confident Trump will end up running. “He has unfinished business,” she said. “He had big plans.”
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol — in a last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― killed five, including one police officer, and injured 140 officers. Four officers working at and around the Capitol that day have died by suicide.
Trump is now under investigation by federal and state officials in multiple jurisdictions.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James has been conducting a civil probe of his family business, while the district attorney in Manhattan has been running a criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, has impaneled a special grand jury just to focus on Trump’s attempt to coerce state officials to “find” enough votes to overturn his loss of that state to Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
And the House committee investigating the events of Jan. 6 has been subpoenaing more and more former and current Trump aides to determine his precise role in that day’s events, while the Department of Justice has confirmed it is investigating at least one element of Trump’s scheme to remain in power: the submission of fake Trump “electors” in states Biden won.
At a Jan. 29 rally this year, Trump asked his followers to stage “the biggest protests we have ever had in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere” if prosecutors came after him, “because our country and our elections are corrupt.”
Despite this, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.