Trump, Haley but no DeSantis: Is CPAC influence waning?

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (NewsNation) — Voters attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) have already gotten a taste of what they came for.

A host of Conservative politicians, mostly those who consider themselves part of the MAGA wing of the party, have been building up to former President Donald Trump taking the stage Saturday night.

Speakers who have been here for the whole conference so far include Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), presidential candidate Nikki Haley and possible presidential candidate Mike Pompeo.

However, there has been a lot of talk about who hasn’t been there and who won’t be there at all. Trump’s biggest challenger, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will not be attending this year’s CPAC due to his book tour.

Along with the governor, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and former Vice President Mike Pence will not attend this year’s conference.

DeSantis and Pence said they will be attending the Club for Growth donor summit, where they will headline, and even Nikki Haley will make an appearance after CPAC.

“We had other priorities this week, but I wish them well,” Pence told The Associated Press from South Carolina on Thursday. “That’s an important gathering filled with great Americans, and I look forward to returning someday.”

The Club for Growth, the influential anti-tax group that has clashed with Trump, will hold a competing event, a donor summit in Florida, that attracted DeSantis, Pence and others. Trump was not invited, underscoring the fierce divide in the conservative movement as some elements strongly back him and others look to move in a new direction.

Since some serious 2024 contenders are skipping out on the event, it’s led some to question whether CPAC carries the same weight it once did. It may be more accurate to say CPAC now skews more in Trump’s image and his brand of politics, reflected in the speaker’s list, discussion topics and events.

There will be more insight on this available once the annual “straw poll” is completed, where the attendees get to make their picks for president.

But make no mistake, there are plenty of GOP heavyweights present, and base voters have gotten a peak at what election year politics will look like.

The Associated Press and NewsNation’s Devan Markham contributed to this report.


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