Trump to speak at conservative conference in Florida where his base is strongest

Conservative politicians and activists gather at the 2022 annual CPAC in Orlando, Florida on Saturday. Former President Trump is scheduled to speak at the annual conference. (Zach D. Roberts/Associated Press)

Former President Trump is expected to address a major conservative conference on Saturday night in a speech that could provide clues as to how he will approach the 2024 Republican nomination campaign and whether he continues to maintain his iron grip. on the most ardent supporters of the Republican Party.

Trump’s speech in Orlando, Fla., and the reception he receives come as GOP politicians gear up for November’s midterms weigh up how to exploit President Biden’s low approval ratings, rising inflation and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, not to mention the federal government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic now entering its third year.

So far, in three days of speeches at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), they seem to have largely avoided talking about Trump and his long list of grievances. Instead, they focused their attacks on Biden and progressive Democrats, focusing on education issues, pandemic restrictions and what they described as poor foreign policy choices.

They are largely using the game plan adopted by Republican Glenn Youngkin, who won the Virginia gubernatorial race last year. Republicans hope such tactics will help them come November to retake Congress, which is held by narrow Democratic majorities.

Two Republicans Frequently Mentioned as Potential GOP Presidential Candidates — Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida — didn’t mention Trump in their speeches and mostly avoided talking about the 2020 election.

Nor did they echo Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was condemned by Western leaders for launching his unprovoked attack on Ukraine this week. Trump touted Putin’s intelligence and savvy, saying the autocrat was “very smart” in the way he approached the invasion of Ukraine.

Rubio focused his fire on the risk posed by a Democratic Party-led tyranny while praising the bravery of Ukrainians resisting Russia’s attack.

“The Ukrainian people are an inspiration to the world,” Rubio said.

Hawley, who briefly defended his decision to oppose certification of the 2020 election, spent his speech criticizing Biden on a long list of what he described as major policy failures, ranging from the chaotic withdrawal of Afghanistan to the management of immigration by the administration. Hawley also blamed Biden for Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

“We have a president who doesn’t believe in American strength, in American energy, and who has no idea of ​​the priorities and challenges facing this country,” Hawley said Thursday.

Like other speakers, Hawley also attacked Democrats for their alleged support of critical race theory, a decades-old lens scholars use to examine how racial inequality and racism are historically embedded in politics. , American legal systems and institutions.

The president is “trying to ram critical race theory down our throats and into every aspect of our government. It’s in the military, it’s in government training, it’s in our universities, all backed now by the power of the Biden administration,” Hawley said.

Another presidential hopeful, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, did not mention the former president in his 20-minute speech. Instead, the governor spoke out against the Biden administration’s approach to the pandemic, saying he refuses to let Florida become a “biomedical security state” or a “dystopia where human freedoms people are restricted and their livelihoods are destroyed”.

“We’ve protected people’s rights, we’ve protected people’s jobs, we’ve protected small businesses, and we’ve made sure every child in the state of Florida has the opportunity to go to school in person five days a week,” said DeSantis, who claimed that Biden “hates ‘the sunshine state.

Like Hawley, DeSantis also warned attendees of the so-called dangers of critical race theory, immigration, high rates of inflation and soaring homicides across the country. DeSantis did not mention the war in Ukraine.

Although Trump was not celebrated by most of the key Republican lawmakers on the speech program, there were exceptions, with some lesser-known conservative speakers repeating Trump’s campaign lies and suggesting that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not It wasn’t as bad as the media and Democrats made it out to be. .

Those who attend the convention are clearly still devoted to the former president. “Make America Great Again” hats and flags as well as dazzling handbags bearing Trump’s name were abundant in the Orlando Convention Center. For some attendees, however, Trump was not the main attraction.

Jill Sessions, a Lakeland, Fla. resident and Polk County school board candidate, expressed support for Trump but said her main motivation for attending was to network with donors and watch DeSantis speak.

“I love our governor,” Sessions said. “He’s a politician who just talks like a person. It’s just common sense and that’s what I like.”

On Sunday, conference organizers are expected to release the results of their annual poll, which often indicated which presidential candidate the Republican base would support in the primaries.

A poll of registered Florida Republicans released Thursday by the University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Lab found DeSantis narrowly beat Trump in a hypothetical 2024 primary, with 44% favoring the governor. compared to the former president. Forty-one percent of those polled said they would vote for Trump while 7% said they were undecided.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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