Former President Donald Trump made his public return to the political world on Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida.
In a scathing rebuke of President Joe Biden’s first month in office, Trump also called for Republican unity — but the annual Washington Times straw poll after his speech surprised many Trump supporters.
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Trump easily won the poll. Of the more than 1,000 attendees polled, 55 percent said he was their first choice in the 2024 Republican presidential primary.
But only a few more — 68 percent total — said they even wanted him to run for a second term.
The result is surprising considering the very pro-Trump atmosphere of the conference. Critics say it could be the first sign of weakness for Trump’s potential second primary run.
Speaking at CPAC, where he was hailed as a returning hero, Trump used the spotlight to blast his successor and laid out a vision for the future of the GOP that revolves firmly around him.
“Do you miss me yet?” Trump said after taking the stage to his old rally soundtrack and cheers from the supportive crowd.
Trump, in his speech, tried to downplay the civil war gripping the party over the extent to which Republicans should embrace him, even as he unfurled an enemies list, calling out by name the 10 establishment House Republicans and seven GOP senators who voted to impeach or convict him for inciting the U.S. Capitol riot. He ended by singling out Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, who has faced tremendous backlash in Wyoming for saying Trump should no longer play a role in the party or headline the event.
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While he insisted the division was merely a spat “between a handful of Washington, D.C., establishment political hacks and everybody else, all over the country,” Trump had a message for the incumbents who had dared to cross him: “Get rid of ’em all.”
The conference, held this year in Orlando instead of the Washington suburbs because of harsh COVID-19 restrictions, served as a tribute to Trump and Trumpism, complete with a golden statue in his likeness on display. Speakers, including many potential 2024 hopefuls, argued that the party must embrace the former president and his supporters.
Trump delivered a sharp rebuke of what he framed as the new administration’s first month of failures, especially Biden’s approach to immigration and the border.
“Joe Biden has had the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history,” Trump said.
Though Trump has flirted with the the idea of creating a third party, he pledged Sunday to remain part of “our beloved” GOP.
“I’m going to continue to fight right by your side. We’re not starting new parties,” he said. “We have the Republican Party. It’s going to be strong and united like never before.”
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Trump also blasted leaders he called RINOs — Republican In Name Only.
“We cannot have leaders who show more passion for condemning their fellow Americans than they have ever shown for standing up to Democrats, the media, and the radicals who want to turn America into a socialist country,” Trump said.
Trump did not use his speech to announce plans to run again, but he repeatedly teased the prospect as he predicted a Republican would win back the White House in 2024.
“And I wonder who that will be,” he offered. “Who, who, who will that be? I wonder.”
It remains unclear, however, how much appetite there would be for another Trump term, even in the room of staunch supporters.
The conference’s annual poll found that 97 percent approved of the job Trump did as president. But they were much more ambiguous when asked whether he should run again.
If the 2024 primary were held today and Trump were in the race, 55 percent said they would vote for him, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 21 percent. Without Trump in the field, DeSantis garnered 43 percent support — not entirely surprising considering the conference was held in his home state. DeSantis was followed by 8 percent for South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and 7 percent each for former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
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Of course, The Washington Times straw poll is unscientific. So we want to hear from you.
Should Trump run again in 2024? Or, should he focus on uniting the party around another Republican presidential candidate?
Share your thoughts —
What should Trump do in 2024?
The Associated Press contributed to this article