Former President Donald Trump touted his White House experience and vowed to “deal with the RINOs” in a marathon speech Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he easily won the 2024 presidential straw poll.
Trump seemed eager to settle scores with members of both parties after a turbulent first term and his re-election loss in 2020. Calling the 2024 contest “the final battle,” Trump acknowledged in the event’s keynote address that he is wiser now about the way Washington works.
“We’ll appropriately deal with the RINOs,” he said, referring to “Republicans In Name Only.” “We will never go back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and Jeb Bush.”
Trump won the support of 62% of respondents at the annual event’s straw poll, held this year in Fort Washington, MD. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who did not attend, came in second with 20%, and third place went to Michigan billionaire Perry Johnson.
Chants of "Four more years!" erupt at CPAC during Trump's speech. pic.twitter.com/e11nQaD4Zn
— Citizen Free Press (@CitizenFreePres) March 4, 2023
The support for Johnson, whose bid to be governor of Michigan was scuttled last year before the general election, was a blow to other Republicans who have announced or are believed to be considering runs, such as former Vice President Mike Pence, ex-UN Ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. DeSantis has not announced a 2024 bid but is widely expected to in the coming months.
In a separate poll for vice president, Kari Lake, who lost the Arizona governor’s race last year, led with 20% support, followed by DeSantis at 14%. More than 2,000 attendees completed the poll, according to organizers.
Trump’s strong showing at CPAC was somewhat predictable, as the annual gathering of conservatives attracts many activists from the GOP’s “MAGA” wing. Many of the other potential GOP candidates, including DeSantis, opted to attend an overlapping, three-day Club for Growth event in Palm Beach, Florida. That event, to which Trump was not invited, attracted major GOP donors.
In his nearly two-hour speech, Trump warned that some of his potential primary competitors could support reforms to Social Security and Medicare.
“We are never going back to the people that want to destroy our great social security system … even some in our own party, I wonder who that might be,” he said.
Trump warned that the U.S. could be headed toward a World War III due to the metastasizing war in Ukraine and said he believed he could broker a peace deal with Russia. Trump also blasted the never-ending investigations and prosecutions that have been mounted against him, including a current probe into his potential role in the January 6 riot, separate cases against him in New York and Georgia, and the FBI raid last August on his Mar-a-Lago home.
“Every time the polls get higher and higher, the prosecutors get crazier and crazier,” Trump said. “They’re not coming after me, they’re coming after you, and that’s why I’m standing here today. I’m standing before you because we’re going to finish what we started. We’re going to complete the mission.”
A day before the speech, Trump released a four-minute video in which he laid out ambitious plans, including building up to 10 “freedom cities” on federal land and promoting the development of “flying cars.”