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Trump shows he holds stranglehold on GOP, media in CPAC barnburner

Trump shows he holds stranglehold on GOP, media in CPAC barnburner

Ahead of his CPAC speech in Orlando, pundits from across the media spectrum were asked if they could predict what former President TrumpDonald TrumpWarren says Republican party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' More than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill McConnell says he's 'great admirer' of Liz Cheney but mum on her removal MORE would say or do in his first public appearance since Inauguration Day. But trying to predict anything regarding Trump is like trying to predict when and where an earthquake is going to strike. There is no roadmap. 

But as we witnessed on Sunday afternoon, the political death of the 45th president has been grossly exaggerated. The atmosphere at CPAC just five weeks after the Democratic president was inaugurated and a majority in the Senate recaptured was surprisingly jubilant and relaxed.

On some level, the GOP is most comfortable making noise in the minority, where a perpetual Festivus reigns via a daily deluge of grievances about everything Biden, Pelosi, Schumer, Swalwell, AOC and the gift that keeps on giving, cancel culture. 

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For his part, this was also a position that Trump may enjoy most in morphing back into 2015-2016 Trump, throwing darts at everything he believes is wrong with the swamp, a Democratic Party drifting hopelessly leftward and an absentee president in Biden. He also put to rest any prospect of a new and alternate MAGA/Patriot Party. 

"We have the Republican Party," Trump told an enthusiastic CPAC crowd "I am not starting a new party... We're not interested in that."

So, this was the moment when Donald Trump somehow put the GOP back in line behind him. He knows what they know: Most Trump supporters would vote for him again if he pursued the party’s nomination. Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Republican reactions to Cheney's removal Republicans have dumped Reagan for Trump Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP MORE (R-Utah) – no fan of the 45th president – correctly said that if Trump were to run again, he’d win

There's also a CPAC straw poll released earlier Sunday that showed 55 percent of attendees saying they would vote for Trump in a hypothetical 2024 primary, which is lower than one would expect but still 34 points higher than the second place finisher, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisDemocrat Nikki Fried teases possible challenge to DeSantis Controversial voting laws add to Democrats' midterm obstacles Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections MORE, and 51 points higher than South Dakota Gov. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemGovernment indoctrination, whether 'critical' or 'patriotic,' is wrong Montana governor approves restrictions on transgender athletes in schools The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney MORE.   

Here are some more interesting numbers: A recent Morning Consult poll showed that nearly six-in-ten GOP voters want the 45th president to play "a major role" in the party moving forward, marking a significant jump of 18 points since a survey taken just after the horrific Capitol riot that resulted directly in Trump's second impeachment. The number of Republicans who believe Trump was at least partly responsible for the riot also dropped 14 points to 27 percent from Jan. 7. 

The poll found that 81 percent of Republicans now say they have a positive view of the former president, up from 77 percent early last month.  

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This seemed impossible following the riots that included the death of a Capitol Police officer. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says Beau's assessment of first 100 days would be 'Be who you are' McConnell says he's 'great admirer' of Liz Cheney but mum on her removal McConnell: 'Good chance' of deal with Biden on infrastructure MORE (R-Ky.) had publicly denounced him just two weeks ago, signaling an attempted divorce from Trump. 

"Former President Trump's actions that preceded the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty," McConnell declared on the Senate floor. "Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day."

Two weeks later, and two days before Trump's CPAC speech, McConnell sang a different tune in stating that he would support Trump if he won the nomination. 


One problem for Trump from the very beginning has been his message discipline, as evidenced by the more than 25,000 tweets he sent while in office. For his CPAC speech, the goal should have been for him not to get distracted by continuing to insist the election was rigged, that it was stolen, despite dozens of court battles lost and no hard evidence to back it up. And despite many doubts going in, Trump mostly avoided looking like the whiner he was after Nov. 3. 

Those who support Trump ultimately wanted to hear about the future, not a past they cannot change. Concentrating on 2022, where the GOP has a very strong chance of taking back the House in only needing to flip five seats, should be the primary focus. (Obama lost 63 seats in the House in his first term, while Trump lost 42, making a five-seat flip a virtual guarantee.) “Retire Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Inflation jumps at fastest pace since 2008 | Biden 'encouraged' on bipartisan infrastructure deal Overnight Health Care: CDC approves Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12-15 | House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill | Panel blasts COVID-19 response Biden 'encouraged' by meeting with congressional leaders on infrastructure MORE" is an easy and pithy bumper sticker to make while serving as a primary motivator for the base. And Trump delivered, particularly on the subject of Biden's botched messaging and execution on reopening schools. 

"There's no reason whatsoever why the vast majority of young Americans should not be back in school immediately," Trump said Sunday. "The only reason that most parents do not have that choice is because Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says Beau's assessment of first 100 days would be 'Be who you are' Biden: McCarthy's support of Cheney ouster is 'above my pay grade' Conservative group sues over prioritization of women, minorities for restaurant aid MORE sold out America's children to the teachers' unions."

Trump also railed against the Biden administration eliminating 11,000 full and temporary jobs around the Keystone Pipeline, around putting "kids back in cages" in reopening migrant facilities literally compared to concentration camps by some Democrats as a crisis begins again at the border. Trump also whacked the aforementioned swamp. "COVID-19 relief bill that only allocates 9 percent of the nearly $2 trillion being spent on direct COVID measures,” he said.

It's hard to imagine, given the poll numbers, Trump not jumping back into the ring in 2024. Many in the GOP probably secretly wish he'll simply play the role of kingmaker for an heir apparent like DeSantis, and as chief fundraiser, without being at the top of the ticket for Democrats to once again make the default referendum for voters without having to defend their own record under the ABT (“Anyone But Trump”) mantra. 

However 2024 unfolds, 2021 became more interesting for a few days with Trump back on stage. 

Cable news will get its ratings boost. Print and online media will get its traffic boost, albeit briefly. 

Not long ago, the unpredictable human earthquake to the political establishment that is Donald Trump was down. It looked like he was out. 

Now, it looks like the next chapter of a big comeback is already being written. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.