The annual Conservative Political Action Conference took place on Feb. 25 through Feb. 28 in Orlando and was met with a large spectrum of questions regarding the future of the GOP and former President Trump’s involvement.
In years past, the CPAC has been used as a time for conservatives and members of the Republican party to come together to discuss new approaches, current issues and the future of the party and its leaders. This year, the conference took place after Trump’s loss and was the first time he spoke out after being banned from social media platforms because of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Usually CPAC is a way to reinforce conservatism and a springboard for presidential hopefuls,” history teacher Amy Livingston said. “Mostly it is a way to fire up the base, highlight what conservatives hold to be true, and rally people to stand up for what they believe.”
Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis kicked off the conference, and other speakers included Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Mike Pompeo. Former President Trump gave the closing speech on Feb. 28. Speakers addressed various topics including abortion, cancel culture and the 2020 election. Many speakers like Pompeo directly “The entire Republican Party is wrestling with its future, but I think CPAC represented both sides well, however Trump got the most attention because he was the keynote speaker,” junior Tucker Sachs said. “I did watch Trump’s speech. I agreed with most of his policy remarks and his stance on the Biden Administration, but I also think some of it was purposefully aimed at making the media go into a frenzy state.”
Although the CPAC is an annual event, this was the first time in four years that Trump was not in office during the event. Many speakers addressed the election saying that it was “stolen” or “fake” despite the recounts that occurred in states like Georgia and Pennsylvania. Another common theme throughout the conference was the disapproval of Biden’s new policies and a battle against the media and its reporting regarding the election.
“[The CPAC] had some great speakers this year, like Governor Kristi Noem, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Governor Ron DeSantis, Charlie Kirk… just to name a few,” Livingston said. “Although all supported Trump, conservatism is bigger than Trump, and true conservatives know this. While Trump helps fire up the crowd, conservatives know the future lies past him in many rising stars within the GOP.”
Republicans have been put in a tense position regarding their political alignments because of Trump’s loss, impeachment and the Capitol insurrection. Republicans like Senator Mitt Romney and Senator Susan Collins have outwardly opposed Trump and supported his impeachment, drifting away from the majority of Republicans. Thus, many Republicans have had to question whether or not to stand with the majority of Republicans supporting Trump or shift away toward the middle.
“What differed this year was the large presence of Trump after his loss in November,” Livingston said. “The purpose of CPAC is to reinforce conservative values among the base and Trump’s presence loomed large over this one, more so than political leaders in years past. This is something that the core of the conservative base is going to have to figure out quickly. Do they allow, in a sense, a Trump takeover or use that fire and determination that Trump had to move forward, but without Trump?”
Americans have speculated as to whether or not Trump would create his own party after his loss in the 2020 election. However, during his speech he made it clear he was sticking with the Republican party.
“The goal was to reaffirm the connection between Trump and the GOP to his base, a goal which I think they achieved very effectively,” senior Carter Bakewell said. “In his speech Trump reiterated multiple times that he had no interest in forming his own political party, and he was loyal to the GOP to the end. Whether or not that is true has yet to be seen, but it at least appears that Donald Trump will remain a powerful force in the Republican party.”
Many Republicans saw the CPAC as a success in that they reiterated Republican values and promoted the future of the party, mainly focusing on Trump as a significant leader. However, some raise the question as to whether or not the Republican party will stick by Trump and his beliefs or diverge and move past the history from the past four years.
The political landscape is changing, Donald Trump’s brand of conservatism lost big last November, and there is no guarantee that it will ever recover,” Bakewell said. “The Republican Party is in quite the tricky position. On one hand they stay with Trump and go down with the ship, on the other hand they abandon him and suffer the consequences of it in 2022 and 24. Donald Trump’s politics have changed the DNA of the republican party. For better or for worse they will never be able to shake off the past 4 years. They can try to embrace that, or they can return to the pre-Trump times.”