Donald Trump strongly hinted to CPAC in Orlando on Sunday that he might run again for president in 2024 and confirmed he would remain a Republican instead of starting a third political party.
After falsely claiming he had won reelection last year, he said, “Who knows? I might even decide to beat them [the Democrats] for a third time,” a statement that brought loud cheers from the conventioneers. He repeated the falsehood that he won the election several times.
The ex-president said he was sticking with the GOP to fight what he claimed was Democratic socialism, “which we know leads to communism.”
“I am not starting a new party,’' he said.
Trump spent much of the speech criticizing the Biden Administration for its policies on immigration, energy and other issues, which he called “a destructive agenda,” and said he would work to elect strong Republican leaders to regain control of Congress.
Trump called for eliminating early voting and mail-in ballots for everyone except the sick and citizens overseas. More than 100 million Americans either voted early or by mail last year, in part because of pandemic health concerns, in an election where Trump lost the popular vote by 7 million votes.
But in a straw poll of CPAC attendees revealed just before Trump’s address, just 68% said they wanted Trump to run again in 2024, a smaller number than expected considering his 97% job approval among participants. The other 32% either said he shouldn’t run or had no opinion.
In a separate poll of potential 2024 GOP nominees for president, Trump was the choice of 55% of attendees. Gov. Ron DeSantis came in second at 21%, with all other candidates in single digits.
With Trump out of the mix, however, DeSantis was first with 43%. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem came in second with 11%; Donald Trump Jr. got 8% for third.
The results highlighted the Florida governor’s difficult path of laying the groundwork for a potential campaign while at the same time still being seen as a loyal Trump acolyte.
U.S. Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio both got 1% or less in both polls.
Cole Tucker, of Louisiana, said minutes after the speech ended that he expected Trump would run again for the White House, even though the ex-president stopped short of saying so.
“He didn’t directly say he was going to run in 2024, but he did,” Tucker said. “He was teasing us a little bit. Of course, I hoped he’d reveal more of whatever his plan is, but I understand why he probably can’t do that.”
Hours earlier, thousands of people both inside and outside the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference eagerly waited for the remarks from Trump, who was closing out an event indelibly marked by his election falsehoods and grievances.
Crowds grew throughout the day starting with dozens in the morning, to thousands by 1:30 p.m., about three hours before Trump was due to speak. Most were not registered with the conference, so they wouldn’t be able to witness the speech.
Amid blaring car horns along International Drive and speakers on adjacent sidewalks blaring Trump anthems such as “YMCA,” Jeanette Mospaw of Winter Haven found a shady spot in the heat to wave her “Keep America Great” flag.
“There’s nothing better than all the Trump people together,” said Mospaw, who traveled with a friend to Orlando for the day.
She said she’d been to two Trump rallies, and was in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, coming within feet of the U.S. Capitol as insurrectionists breached the building.
Some signs along International Drive referenced the baseless QAnon conspiracy, with one saying “Fear less, LQve more,” and another said “GQP.” Others waved Trump 2024 flags, one said “He’ll be back,” and merchants sold shirts disparaging President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Inside the conference, former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker falsely claimed the election was stolen from Trump and warned that Democrats sought to extend the counting period after Election Day to “find” ballots. The reason that many states didn’t finish their counts for days, however, was because Republican legislatures mandated mail-in ballots couldn’t be counted early.
Robert Unanue, the CEO of Goya Foods, called Trump “the real, the legitimate, and the still actual president of the United States.”
Goya’s board of directors has mandated that Unanue not speak to the news media without its approval following his repeated false claims of voter fraud.
The speakers have mostly been overshadowed by the swirl of activity in and out of the Hyatt Regency Orlando, including a golden statue of Trump, the Proud Boys promoting their alternate, far-right conference across town and pardoned Trump associate Roger Stone dancing with supporters.
Mask-wearing and social distancing have been spotty, with attendees booing organizers asking them to follow Hyatt’s policies. One credentialed media member, a YouTube personality, was asked to leave by security on Friday for repeatedly refusing to wear a mask.
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
Orange County, though, said Friday it sent task force members to the hotel and confirmed that the Hyatt was attempting to enforce the rules.
The hotel chain has faced increasing criticism for hosting the event, with “#boycotthyatt” trending on Twitter.
A Hyatt spokesperson told Fox Business Sunday the company was attempting to create “a highly inclusive environment” and that it believes in “the right of individuals and organizations to peacefully express their views, independent of the degree to which the perspectives of those hosting meetings and events at our hotels align with ours.”
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, harshly criticized Trump’s appearance.
“Our country has unsubscribed, banned, and moved on from the insurrectionist, twice-impeached former president,” Fried wrote on Twitter. “He doesn’t deserve attention from anyone other than law enforcement.”