Donald Trump to speak on final day in Orlando

Gun Rights

Antonio Fins

Zac Anderson

Wendy Rhodes
 
| Palm Beach Post

The Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, for the first time is not taking place in the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland. The iconic hotel remains shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic. Instead the four-day event kicked off Thursday in Orlando. The event is also seen as coming-out party for Florida’s conservative leaders

Follow our live updates from the conference:

6 p.m. | Trump calls for election reforms

In his CPAC speech, Trump called for the following election reforms:

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— One election day, and presumably no early voting

— Voter ID requirement

— Universal signature verification

— No mail in voting except for those who are “sick” and the military

5:30 p.m. | Trump teases 2024 run but does not commit

President Donald Trump made it clear Sunday that he will remain heavily involved in GOP politics from his new home base of Florida, and his followers gathered at the Orlando conference made it clear they see Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as Trump’s heir apparent. 

Trump rejected the idea floated in some corners that he might start a new political party, instead saying that he plans to stay involved with the Republican Party, continuing a movement that began in 2015 and “is far from being over,” Trump said. 

“I will continue to fight right by your side,” Trump told the crowd gathered for the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. 

Trump teased a 2024 run for president, repeating his baseless claim that he won in 2020 and adding: “who knows, I may even decide to beat them for a third time.” 

A straw poll of grassroots GOP activists gathered for the big conservative confab showed the vast majority are eager to see Trump stay involved. 

Among those polled, 97% said they approved of Trump’s job performance as president, 68% said they want him to run for president again in 2024 and 55% said they’d support him if he does. But 21% said they’d support DeSantis, a number that jumped to 43% if Trump doesn’t run. 

With Trump out of the picture, DeSantis led the 2024 race in the straw poll by a wide margin. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem was in second at 11%. 

— 

4 p.m. | Trump delayed, protests get tense

3:30 | Straw Poll Results suggests Trump-DeSantis 2024

The CPAC straw poll put Trump as the favorite 2024 presidential candidate with 55%, with Gov. Ron DeSantis trailing at 21%. All other candidates were in the single-digits.

If Trump is not in the field, DeSantis led the field at 43% with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem at 11% and Donald Trump Jr. at 8%. Some 70% said they want Trump to seek the presidency again in 2024.

Read on: GOP activists poll has Gov. DeSantis favored to win 2024 nomination if Trump doesn’t run

Top issues were election integrity at 62%, constitutional rights second at 48%, immigration and the wall at 35% and reopening the economy at 32%. 

Outside, another issue got attention:

3:20 p.m. | Proud Boys leader speaks — outside

3:10 p.m. | Tense situation outside CPAC halls

3 p.m. | Nukes, abortion, conspiracies and more

2:45 p.m. | Smattering of protesters also present

It got tense for a moment when trump supporter carrying a Confederate flag stood among the protesters and berated them.

2 p.m. | Rhetoric getting vitriolic outside

The rhetoric and language outside the CPAC conference center is getting intense, including profanities on banners and t-shirts.

1:45 p.m. | The party is outside

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CPAC 2021 attendees chant USA! USA! in Orlando

CPAC attendees chant “USA! USA!” in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, Feb. 28, 20221.

Wendy Rhodes, Palm Beach Post

1:30 p.m. | Bad judges

Former President Trump’s legal team suffered nearly 60 legal defeats in futile challenges to the 2020 presidential election results. But Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, told the CPAC audience to blame the judges.

“We have judges that aren’t good,” he said in a panel discussion on election integrity.

Schlapp said that judges ruled against Trump and allied legal eagles because they concluded the issue was “too hot politically” after seeing last summer’s protests and their desire to get invites to country clubs.

Former acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said, going forward, Republicans will get some protection in elections-related cases from conservative judges, including three U.S. Supreme Court justices nominated by Trump — even though the court  refused to hear two challenges to 2020 presidential election results.

— Antonio Fins

1:18 p.m. | Florida’s 2000 recount highlighted

Florida’s 2000 presidential recount was highlighted during another discussion of election reforms – the sixth at CPAC so far. 

Michael Whatley, the chair of the North Carolina GOP and a former member of George W. Bush’s Florida recount team, alleged that Democrats were going to “steal the election” if the GOP hadn’t flooded into Florida with lawyers in 2000.

“We knew if we were not there they were going to steal it,” Whatley said, adding later that the GOP needs to be “lawyered up” to combat election irregularities going forward.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continued to receive praise during the panel discussion, with one panelist saying that the governor “did the right things immediately” after the 2018 election by ousting two election supervisors in South Florida.

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CPAC: What to know about this year’s conservative conference

The Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, is about to kick off and a very familiar face will be headlining.

Staff video, USA TODAY

12:58 p.m. | NRA chief says his group “most successful civil rights organization” in history

National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre wasn’t short on superlatives for his group Sunday, calling it the “oldest and most successful civil rights organization in the history of mankind” and later “one of the leading civil rights organizations in the world.”

LaPierre also had harsh words for New York leaders investigating the NRA, saying the are engaged in “the most appalling deviation from a free and open society that the United States of America has ever seen.”

LaPierre outlined his group’s plan to reorganize in Texas, saying that – like Florida - Texas is more friendly to his organization’s mission and the NRA needs to get “away from the toxic political environment in New York.”

The NRA chief also pledged to push back against potential gun control efforts by President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress.

– Zac Anderson

12:10 p.m. | “They can’t shut half of us up”

With Republicans out of power and the party seeking a way forward, prominent conservative Matt Schlapp told the crowd at CPAC to continue speaking up Sunday.

“They’re trying to make you afraid that you’ll lose your job if you have a MAGA hat,” said Schlapp, the president of the American Conservative Union.

Schlapp also encouraged conservatives not to back down from raising election integrity questions or concerns about the unrest in American cities last summer.

“We have to start, each one of us, saying that this is the truth and we are going to keep saying it and if all of us do it together guess what? They can’t shut half of us up, they simply can’t!” Schlapp said, adding: “They will not cancel America! It’s the truth.”

11:51 a.m. | More election fraud talk

Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of election fraud have been the main focus of CPAC, and that continued Sunday with multiple panel discussions devoted to the fraud talk.

A late morning discussion that included Hans Von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation and John Fund of National Review was a little different, though.

Von Spokovsky and Fund have been focused on fraud for years, well before Trump ran for office. They co-wrote a 2012 book about it. Their panel discussion warned against indulging conspiracy theories about fraud when there are plenty of real examples.

Yet the real examples they’ve dug up mostly involve small numbers of votes, according to an investigation by USA Today.

Von Spokovsky noted Sunday that he has compiled a list of more than 1,300 fraud cases.

“We have this election fraud database,” he said.

USA Today looked at the list, though, and found that the voter fraud examples didn’t justify concerns raised by Trump before the election about a broad election-rigging campaign.

“Although the list has been used to warn against a major threat of fraud, a deep look at the cases in the list shows that the vast majority put just a few votes at stake,” according to the USA Today investigation.

– Zac Anderson

11:23 a.m. | Deregulate health care during pandemic

With millions of Americans being infected by the virus causing COVID-19 and hundreds of thousands ending up in the hospital, the focus of CPAC’s health care panel Sunday was on deregulation and limiting government involvement in the system.

“All hands on deck to keep the government out of our health care,” said U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson, Trump’s former physician.

Jackson advocated for a free market approach to health care focused on boosting competition to drive down costs, a common conservative position advocated by Trump.

But nonpartisan experts say health care costs continued to rise during Trump’s administration, raising concerns about the affordability of care when it is most needed – in the midst of a global pandemic.

– Zac Anderson

10:19 a.m. | More love for DeSantis

Larry Kudlow, the former director of the White House National Economic Council, gave a shout out to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s pandemic policies Sunday during his CPAC speech.

Kudlow thanked CPAC for moving the conference to Florida, adding: “Which thanks to the wisdom of Gov. DeSantis is an open state.”

DeSantis touted his less restrictive approach to the pandemic in his welcoming address to CPAC attendees Friday. The governor’s push to keep Florida wide open has excited conservatives, and is adding to talk that DeSantis could be a frontrunner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination if Trump doesn’t run.

– Zac Anderson

10:06 a.m. | Attacking Liz Cheney

Republican U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney continues to be pilloried by conservatives for voting to impeach Trump, and trying to move the GOP away from the former president.

Club for Growth President David McIntosh ripped into Cheney, the third highest ranking Republican in the U.S. House, from the CPAC stage Sunday.

“Liz Cheney is wrong when she said President Trump doesn’t have a part in the Republican Party,” said McIntosh, whose group is heavily involved in House elections, including supporting U.S. Rep. Greg Steube and U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, two Florida Republicans, in 2020.

“When we combine the conservative principles of the Republican party with the boldness of Donald Trump we will win,” McIntosh added.

Yet McIntosh also seemed to warn against Trump’s populist tendencies, saying Republicans shouldn’t abandon “the principles of freedom to pursue populist” proposals.

– Zac Anderson

9:00 a.m. | Trump speaking today

Former president Donald Trump is scheduled to speak at CPAC today, his first public appearance since leaving office.

Trump is speaking at 3:40 p.m.. There is considerable anticipation about what he will say, and whether he will signal his next political steps. Whether Trump runs again for president in 2024 is something many are wondering about.

The conference kicked off at 9 a.m. with remarks by Goya Foods owner Robert Unanue. Among the other speakers today: National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre, Former U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker and Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan.

Autry Pruitt, CEO of New Journey PAC, followed Unanue as the second speaker Sunday. Pruitt ended his speak with a list of what he called conservative values, including not wearing masks during the pandemic.

“Conservative values will help you take that mask off your face,” Pruitt said.

– Zac Anderson

Some Republicans exit party

It’s an upbeat, bullish view of the state of things for conservatives at CPAC’s Orlando conference.

But an analysis of statewide voter registration records by the Palm Beach Post found 24,266 Republicans quit the party the month between Jan. 12 and Feb. 9. Offsetting the loss were the 19,494 people who joined the party. Still, the fluid party shifts left the Florida GOP with  4,772 fewer voters.

By comparison, only 6,432 Democrats left the party while 17,052 voters joined, leaving Democrats with 10,620 more voters, according to the analysis.

The overall number is low, a net loss of just under 5,000 voters. But it interrupts, at least for the moment, a years-long trend in which GOP voter registrations outpaced those of rival Democrats.

From 2016 through last fall’s election, Florida Republicans picked up roughly 600,000 new voters, to top 5.1 million in the state. Democrats picked up just over 430,000 to reach 5.3 million, giving the party a 183,596-voter lead over Republicans among registered voters, according to the latest report by the state Division of Elections.

— Antonio Fins

Florida is ‘conservative hub of the universe’?

With White House and Congress controlled by Democrats for the first time in a decade, a Naples-based Republican strategist and former presidential campaign operative said the Sunshine State is a model for a more conservative GOP to mount a comeback.

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“The reason why Florida is the conservative hub of the universe at the moment is a lot of conservatives believe that the road back to power is highlighting Florida as a conservative model of government for the rest of the nation,” said Ford O’Connell. “Given the fact that we are shut out of all three levels of the federal government, the one place Republicans are thriving is Florida.”

In fact, Florida is home to the former president, who will close out the conference Sunday afternoon. It is a major fundraising venue for Republican and conservative candidates from across the country. It boasts a Republican-dominated state government, two U.S. senators and a firebrand congressman with ambitions for higher office.

— Antonio Fins

Ex-Republican reminds former party that Biden beat Trump 

A now independent political strategist who advises Democrats warned his former Republican colleagues that said last week  that the GOP’s embrace of Trump has led to nothing but defeats, including President Biden’s 7 million-plus vote win in November.

“Biden won by not being Trump,” said Atiba Madyun, a Washington, D.C.-based political strategist who founded the group Party Politics US. 

DeSantis tells conservatives: Florida is an ‘oasis of freedom’ under his leadership

Trump is headliner at CPAC in Orlando. But really it’s conservative Florida’s coming-out party

— Antonio Fins

House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief measure

While GOP Florida lawmakers were talking 2024 at CPAC in Orlando, the Democratic-majority U.S. House approved the long-awaited $1.9 trillion COVID relief legislation that includes $1,400 individuals checks, aid to state and local governments plus an increase to the federal minimum wage to $15.

South Florida Democratic U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch hailed the legislation. Frankel said the bill “will crush this virus, return children safely to the classroom, get vaccines into the arms of Americans, put money into the pockets of working families, and get people back to work.”

Deutch added that the bill will increase the “response to the virus by expanding vaccination sites, scaling up testing and tracing programs, addressing the PPE shortage, and investing resources to safely reopen our schools.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill oppose the measure but GOP mayors and governors in key red states have supported it. Plus a Politico/Morning Consult poll last week found that 76% of registered voters support it, while just 18% oppose it and 8% were uncertain.

— Antonio Fins

Not on the agenda

Despite GOP boasting it made inroads among Hispanic voters last November, and  Trump’s strong showing among Miami-Dade County Hispanics, three Cuban-Americans from Miami were not on the CPAC speaking roster.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was not on the speaking schedule. Neither were two newcomers to Congress, U.S. Reps. Carlos Gimenez and Maria Elvira Salazar, who both flipped 305-based districts won by Democrats in the 2018 blue wave.

— Antonio Fins

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CPAC: Dems call Republicans hypocritical over proxy voting

A host of Republicans designated proxies, citing the “ongoing public health emergency,” to travel to the Conservative Political Action Conference.

USA TODAY, Wochit

Democrats take aim at Rick Scott

Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, aligned himself with the Trump base of the GOP during his CPAC speech on Friday. 

“We will not win the future by trying to go back to where the Republican Party used to be,” Scott said. “If we do, we will lose the working base that President Trump so animated. We’re going to lose elections across the country and we’re going to lose our nation.”

That drew fire from the rival Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee which said in a statement issued Friday that Scott’s “reluctance to choose sides” in the GOP civil war is due to his own “presidential ambitions.” 

— Antonio Fins

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CPAC: ‘Freedom’ jeers met with facemask rule reminder

CPAC officials received some vocal resistance from the conference crowd when reminding them to respect the hotel’s mask rules.

Staff video, USA TODAY

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