OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump solid himself Saturday as the one Republican candidate who can construct on his White Home legacy however shied away from straight critiquing his potential rivals, together with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Trump, giving the headlining handle on the annual Conservative Political Motion Convention, informed a cheering crowd that he was engaged in his “last battle” as he tries to return to the White Home.
“We’re going to end what we began,” he mentioned. “We’re going to finish the mission. We’re going to see this battle by way of to final victory.”
Although DeSantis, seen as Trump’s greatest potential rival, is regularly a topic of name-calling and different assaults in Trump’s social media posts and in interviews, he wasn’t talked about straight in Trump’s handle earlier than conservative activists, who earlier within the day applauded when an previous video clip of the Florida governor was proven in a montage.
Whereas CPAC was as soon as a must-stop for candidates mulling Republican presidential runs, DeSantis and different main probably contenders skipped this 12 months’s gathering amid scandal and because the group has more and more grow to be aligned with Trump.
The previous president’s enduring recognition with this section of voters was on show all through the convention this week. Some attendees wore Trump-themed outfits, with “MAGA” hats and sequined jackets.
Members of his household and his presidential administration had been swarmed like celebrities within the hallways and dominated the record of audio system. The handful of different potential and declared candidates not named Trump who spoke obtained solely tepid applause.
And the annual CPAC straw ballot, an unscientific survey of attendees, discovered Trump the best choice to be the celebration’s nominee, with 62% help, trailed by DeSantis at 20% and businessman Perry Johnson, who introduced his lengthy shot bid on the convention, with 5%.
Practically all — 95% of respondents — mentioned they authorised of Trump’s efficiency as president.
Forward of his speech, Trump informed reporters that he would proceed his third presidential marketing campaign even when indicted. He’s beneath investigation by prosecutors probing his efforts to overturn the outcomes of the 2020 election in Georgia and by the U.S. Justice Division, in addition to his dealing with of categorized paperwork, amongst different points.
He condemned all of the probes as politically motivated and vowed that prison fees wouldn’t deter him.
“Oh, completely, I received’t even take into consideration leaving,” he informed reporters, including that “most likely, it’ll improve my numbers, but it surely’s a really unhealthy factor for America. It’s very unhealthy for the nation.”
“That is an viewers that helps President Trump,” mentioned Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., the No. 3 Home Republican, who endorsed Trump days earlier than he formally launched his 2024 marketing campaign.
The one member of Home management to attend the convention, Stefanik informed The Related Press that Trump continued to be the celebration’s chief.
“President Trump is in a really sturdy place and I believe he would be the Republican nominee,” she mentioned.
Whereas Trump didn’t launch broadsides in opposition to his potential challengers for the White Home, a lot of whom had been pitching themselves to conservative donors close to his Florida house this week, he did repeatedly criticize the previous guard of the Republican Occasion, which is keen to maneuver previous him.
“We had a Republican Occasion that was dominated by freaks, neo-cons, globalists, open borders zealots and fools. However we’re by no means going again to the celebration of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and Jeb Bush,” he mentioned.
He took solely a veiled jab at DeSantis, calling out those that have proposed elevating the age for Social Safety or privatizing Medicare — positions DeSantis has expressed help for prior to now, however has since deserted. “We’re not going to mess with Social Safety as Republicans,” DeSantis lately mentioned.
Trump informed the gang, “If that’s their unique thought, that’s what they at all times come again to.”
Trump threaded his speech with grievances associated to his time period in workplace and outlined his agenda for a second, together with restrictions on gender-affirming care and transgender athletes, which drew a number of the strongest applause from the room and was a recurrent theme in speeches on the four-day convention.
Whereas many prime Republicans steered away from the convention, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a possible candidate, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who declared her candidacy final month, each spoke Friday and made shrouded critiques of Trump. Their refusal to name him out by identify underscored the dangers confronted by challengers seeking to provide another in a celebration wherein Trump stays the dominant drive.
“There isn’t a one in that discipline I need as my president aside from Donald J. Trump,” mentioned Waverly Woods, a Republican activist and marketer from Virginia Seaside, Virginia, who mentioned she likes DeSantis however that Trump has first declare on the hearts of many on the convention.
That features Woods’ typically companion in native GOP races, Kim Shourds, whose automobile bears a “TRUMP WON” license plate.
DeSantis? She likes him, she mentioned, however not sufficient. She desires the governor to take a seat down “and let my man are available in and run this nation,” Shourds mentioned.
However not everybody at CPAC was on board.
E. Payne Kilbourn, a retired Navy submarine captain from Neavitt, Maryland, who now writes and advocates for carbon dioxide, mentioned he was “very, very” proud of Trump’s presidency, however now thinks it’s time for the celebration to maneuver on.
“I believe Donald Trump’s simply too poisonous for a lot of the nation,” mentioned Kilbourn, 69, an unbiased who votes for Republicans basically elections and desires Trump would “bow out and simply be the man behind the scenes.”
Strategically, he sees DeSantis as higher positioned to finally win the White Home.
“I believe he would have a greater probability of getting elected,” he mentioned.