The final four days of February saw many of the biggest names in the US Republican Party gather for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Since its inception more than four decades ago, CPAC has become a must-attend event for conservative politicians, media figures and activists.
This year’s conference ended with a keynote speech by President Donald Trump, who has appeared at the conference every year since winning the 2016 election.
Other notable speakers at the conference included Vice President Mike Pence, members of Trump’s family, including Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., as well as Nigel Farage, the British politician and former UKIP leader who was one of the most vocal supporters of Brexit.
The Conservative Political Action Conference
This year’s CPAC was held at the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Estimates for total attendance at CPAC 2020 haven’t been released, but last year’s conference saw more than 19,000 people in attendance.
CPAC was founded by two conservative political groups, the American Conservative Union and Young Americans for Freedom. Ronald Reagan gave the keynote address at CPAC’s first conference, in 1974. He was elected president just six years later.
Since then, CPAC has become a regular stop for conservative politicians and public figures, especially those who have presidential aspirations.
President Trump at CPAC
Trump has been a regular figure at CPAC throughout the 2010s, though during the Republican Primary in 2016 he pulled out at the last minute to make appearances in Kansas and Florida (both states he carried in the general election).
Since winning the 2016 election, Trump has spoken every year and given the closing keynote speech multiple times.
This year, Trump’s appearance as the keynote speaker came shortly after his press conference announcing the steps the US government was taking to handle the coronavirus.
Trump spoke for under an hour and a half on Saturday night to a supportive CPAC crowd, many of whom could be seen wearing Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hat.
He also criticized the Democratic presidential candidates, referring to many of them via the nicknames he’s coined, such as “Mini Mike" for billionaire Mike Bloomberg. He also discussed a host of common topics like the economy and border security. He ended the speech by hugging and kissing an American flag that was set up on the stage.
In 2018, Trump used his CPAC speech to tout political victories, including the passing of a major tax cut, claiming he might be “the only person that actually fulfilled more promises than he made.”
In his 2019 speech, given on March 2, Trump spoke about “the collusion delusion” related to the investigation into his campaign’s alleged dealings with Russia. The president criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the team conducting the investigation.
The Mueller Report, which detailed their findings, was released later that month.
CPAC attacks socialism
On the conference’s agenda were multiple speeches and presentations devoted to the ills of socialism, including Thursday morning’s “Socialism: Wrecker of Nations and Destroyer of Societies” and Friday’s “Socialism & The Great Awokening.”
These forums were addressing progressive politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination for president. Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of whom identify as Democratic Socialists, are frequently criticized by Fox News and other conservative news outlets for their policy views.
Each year at CPAC speakers also take specific aim at political rivals, both across the aisle and within the Republican Party. Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA and a conservative celebrity on Twitter, gave a speech in which he said the 2020 election was a choice between “a free Republic…or a failed socialist experiment.”
Kirk then encouraged the booing of Republican Senator Mitt Romney, saying the senator should be booed every time his name is mentioned because he “lied to every single person in this room."
Romney was the only Republican to vote to impeach Trump. It marked the first time in history that a member of congress had voted to remove a member of his or her own party from the presidency.
The future of the conservative movement
One question that came out of the conference was who would be following Trump as the leader of the conservative movement. As noted by Politico, this year’s CPAC had in attendance a who’s who of people who may be expected to step up in 2024 to campaign for president. Regardless of whether Trump wins in 2020, the Republican Party will need a new candidate in 2024.
A woman at the conference was seen wearing a “Nikki 2024” ball cap, a reference to Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and the US Ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 to 2018. Haley has been described as a rising star in the Republican Party since her 2010 win in South Carolina.
Haley has also come out as a regular defender of Trump, calling him “truthful” when asked about statements that have also been labeled as misleading or outright lies. She also defended his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that eventually led to Trump’s impeachment.
Other possible contenders for the Republican nomination in 2024 in attendance included Pence, Texas Senator Ted Cruz (who ran against Trump in 2016), and the freshman senator from Missouri, Josh Haley, another “rising star” in the Republican Party who gained recognition as an outspoken ally of Trump during the impeachment trial.