Trump fans eager to hear ex-president Sunday at CPAC
ORLANDO, Fla. — Anticipation for Donald Trump’s Sunday speech was palpable at CPAC in Orlando on Saturday, as speakers invoked the ex-president’s name and policies in their remarks and attendees were hopeful he’d shed light on his political future.
Charlene Daniel-Greene and her husband drove from Pennsylvania. Recently retired, the couple hopes to get involved in conservative activism in the coming years.
But she said she was discouraged that Trump hasn’t spoken out since Jan. 6 and feels his silence and the death of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh have left a hole in the discourse.
“I’m very eager to hear what his plans are for the future. Is he going to run in ’24? Is he putting together a Super PAC? Is he putting together a different social media platform? I think that’s what most people are interested in finding out: What does the future hold for Donald Trump and how does that impact us as conservatives?” she said.
But she balked at the idea of him running for president again.
“I would say leading from other ways besides the presidency … would probably be the best thing,” she said.
Steve Merczynski of New York, who sells customized MAGA hammocks, said he wants Trump back in the White House.
“I want to hear him say he’s coming back,” he said. “I want him to run again.”
Merczynski, who carried various red, white and blue hammocks around the hotel, said Trump is the leader of the Republican party, and the next GOP nominee should be Trump or an ardent supporter of his policies.
Duggan Flanakin, director of policy research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, said he hoped Trump would blast what he called “pork spending” in the COVID-relief bill, which passed the U.S. House Friday night and is headed to the Senate.
“Those are issues perhaps that we’ll look for the president to bring up because they’re not being discussed,” he said.
Flanakin, of Austin, Texas, said he thought Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who opened the conference Friday, was the top GOP contender for 2024, and that Trump should consider passing the torch.
“I don’t think there is any other contender,” he said. “All he needs is for Donald Trump to say … ‘you know, I think it’s time for me to allow the people who have come up under me, who I’ve given the opportunity to, to rise up and take leadership because we need people in the leadership for the next 20 years.’”
The former president, who has mostly kept quiet since leaving office last month for his palatial Palm Beach resort, was top of mind for speakers at the conservative conference Saturday.
“The idea that you can cancel Donald Trump is absurd,” said former Ambassador Robert Lighthizer.
Ric Grennell, a former Trump-appointed ambassador to Germany who later served as the acting Director of National Intelligence, invoked Trump’s agenda in his remarks.
“The doctrine of ‘America First’ is here to stay,” he said.
Trump is scheduled to close out the conference with a speech on Sunday afternoon.
It wasn’t hard to find references to Trump throughout gathering areas at CPAC at the Hyatt Regency Orlando. Shirts had silhouettes of the former president, others wore buttons with his name or likeness.
Outside of the hotel, vendors sold flags, shirts and other merchandise encouraging a 2024 run for president and promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Enrique Tarrio, chairman of the neo-fascist Proud Boys, gathered with a few dozen Trump supporters across the street from the conference. Tarrio said he was in town for other events happening outside the meeting. “It’s not my cup of tea,” he said, when asked if he was participating in CPAC.
Several people waved Trump flags as pro-Trump rapper Bryson Gray shot a music video. A handful of Black Lives Matter protesters chanted at the group, but the conflict didn’t escalate beyond the exchanging of words.
CPAC was supposed to be kicked off Saturday with remarks from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, but the Florida Republican was removed from the agenda at the last minute, an official with the conference confirmed.
The senator tweeted later that he to cancel his talk because of “an unexpected family issue.”
“I was really looking forward to it,” Rubio said in a tweet. “But as I told (CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp) they should move CPAC to Florida permanently.”
Rubio wasn’t added to the speakers’ list until Friday. He has gone out of his way to stay in Trump’s good graces since their presidential primary battle in 2016 but until recently had been facing a possible primary challenge by Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is moving to Miami.
Last week, the New York Times reported that Ivanka Trump told Rubio she would not run.
Most of those in attendance Saturday wore face coverings as hotel staffers circulated with signs reminding their use. Some delivered messages like “masked but not silenced,” while others said “MAGA” or offered support for the Second Amendment.
Businesses can face fines in Orange County for not enforcing Mayor Jerry Demings’ executive order requiring masks and other COVID protocols.
The event marks a brief shot-in-the-arm for hotels, bars and restaurants on International Drive.
County officials estimated a $2.9 million economic impact from CPAC, based on about 5,400 room nights booked, said spokeswoman Despina McLaughlin.
The convention shifted from Maryland to Florida this year, a trend among conventions and meetings.
Demings, a Democrat, said he’d been assured event planners would comply with his executive order requiring face coverings, and that the region is expecting to benefit from other conventions, shows and meetings relocating to Central Florida or rebooking from previous cancellations.
“We have a number of events and shows that have booked here, some relocating from other jurisdictions because they perceive that it’s safe to do so,” he said last week. “They’re monitoring our low positivity rates and our available room occupancies, and they’re moving here.”
Business travel was among the first blows to the county’s tourism economy when the pandemic struck nearly a year ago. In all more than 70 conventions were canceled and 53 were rescheduled at the Orange County Convention Center, and the region’s Tourist Development Tax, a 6% levy of short-term rental and hotel room nights, is at historic lows.
On Friday, CPAC featured a who’s who of Republican leaders, including a brief speech from DeSantis, who called the state “an oasis of freedom” from coronavirus restrictions.
DeSantis has resisted any state mandates to stop the spread of COVID-19 since the summertime, despite more than 30,600 deaths and 1.9 million cases in the state.
Several attendees clashed with CPAC leaders who tried to enforce a local mandate on mask-wearing. At least one person was ordered to leave because of his refusal to wear a face covering, and many in the crowd either took off their masks or wore them improperly.
But county officials said an enforcement “strike team” that visited the convention Friday found “every effort (was) being made” to enforce mask policies.
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