Republicans give 2024 tryouts at CPAC

President Trump faces more than nine months left in office before voters head to the polls to decide on his reelection, but the early dynamics of the race to succeed him are already on display.

Several prominent Republicans who have been floated as potential 2024 candidates took the stage at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., making appearances at the confab to boost Trump while keeping up their own profiles.

While the potential for a second Trump term looms large, Republicans have already started buzzing about who may run to replace him, such as Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Speaking at the annual gathering is viewed as a key step for any potential GOP presidential hopeful, with Republicans this week presenting themselves to thousands of activists amid speculation over their political futures post-Trump.

“CPAC gives prospective candidates an opportunity to introduce themselves to the some of the most active and influential conservatives throughout the country,” Sean Spicer, the former White House communications director, told The Hill.

Pompeo used his Friday speech to list off the administration’s accomplishments, including the elimination of several high-profile terrorists, but also cast his tenure as secretary of State as one focused on tackling issues rather than hobnobbing with international leaders.

“I’m not in it for the fancy dinners in Paris or Switzerland or Vienna. I’ve only been to those places twice,” Pompeo said during his speech, casting his tenure as secretary of State as one that has shirked traditional hobnobbing with foreign leaders.

“I’d rather go be with my team in tough places, places that present hardship to the young men and women who are serving as diplomats all across the world,” he said.

Pompeo, who drew headlines when organizers announced he would speak to an influential conservative group in the early voting state of Iowa next month, has opted to stay in Trump’s Cabinet instead of run for Senate in his home state of Kansas.

He was introduced at CPAC on Friday by his wife, who spoke in personal terms about her husband’s time working at a Baskin-Robbins in high school and coming from a family with a “mean” Italian meatball recipe — details aimed at showing Pompeo’s softer side even as the secretary of State touted his role as the United States’ top diplomat.

“Wherever I go, working for President Trump, people tug on my sleeve. They want to meet me. They want to meet not because I’m Mike from Kansas but because I represent the greatest country in the history of civilization,” he said to raucous applause and chants of “USA.”

Pence used his speech at the gathering to voice confidence in the administration’s efforts to combat the coronavirus — which Trump tapped him to oversee this week — and ticked off a list of accomplishments under the Trump administration, including killing several terrorists.

The vice president, who has crisscrossed the country to pitch various Trump policies, has also raised eyebrows with several trips in the past year to the crucial primary state of South Carolina. He went after Democrats in his CPAC speech, arguing that their party was lurching to the left with presidential front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) leading the way.

“Today’s Democratic Party has been taken over by radical leftists who want higher taxes, open borders and late-term abortion,” Pence said during his address on Thursday. “There are no moderates in this Democratic field. Every other one of the Democrats running for president embraces Bernie’s democratic socialism.” 

Haley urged CPAC attendees to “fight for capitalism” during her speech and was mobbed when walking into the crowd. The former United Nations ambassador has given a spree of speeches since her departure from the Trump administration and this month launched a policy group that will focus on issues such as border security and socialism.

Cruz, meanwhile, took the opportunity to record a live taping of his podcast “The Verdict,” with the Texas Republican making a pitch to blue-collar voters who helped elect Trump in 2016.

“Today Democrats are the party of Hollywood celebrities and Silicon Valley billionaires and Wall Street titans. They sip their lattes and they look down on working-class Americans,” he said. “And on the other hand, working men and women, the working men and women here, union members, blue-collar union members used to form the heart of the Democratic Party. FDR Democrats who became Reagan Democrats and right now today they’re Trump Democrats.”

A handful of other GOP figures who have been floated as potential 2024 candidates made appearances at CPAC this year, including Donald Trump Jr. and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).

Trump Jr. and Hawley, two conservative firebrands who have emerged as favorites of the GOP base, appeared onstage together at a panel railing at social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter for allegedly suppressing conservative accounts.

Several politicians who have later gone on to launch White House bids have been featured at CPAC, given its platform in front of thousands of faithful grassroots activists.

The CPAC tradition of fueling presidential bids goes back to former President Reagan. Reagan, then the governor of California, made an appearance at the conference in 1974 — six years before he became president.

Trump himself made appearances at the gathering starting in 2011, using his speeches to burnish his conservative bona fides before ultimately going on to win the GOP nomination and the presidency in 2016.

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Josh Hawley Liz Cheney Mike Pence Mike Pompeo Nikki Haley Sean Spicer Ted Cruz

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