Trump pitches a sequel, but shies away from attacking rivals

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Former President Donald Trump cast himself on Saturday as the only Republican candidate who can build on his White House legacy, but shied away from directly criticizing his potential rivals, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Trump, delivering the keynote address at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, told a cheering crowd that he was engaged in his “last fight” as he seeks to return to the White House.

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“We are going to finish what we started,” he said. “We are going to accomplish the mission. We are going to see this fight through to the final victory.”

Although DeSantis, seen as Trump’s biggest potential rival, is often the subject of name-calling and other attacks in Trump’s social media posts and interviews, he was not directly mentioned in Trump’s address to conservative activists. who had appreciated earlier in the day. A montage featured an old video clip of Florida’s governor.

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While CPAC was once a must for Republican presidential candidates, DeSantis and other major potential contenders skipped this year’s gathering amid scandal and the group has become increasingly aligned with Trump.

The former president’s enduring popularity with this segment of voters was on display throughout the convention this week. Some attendees wore Trump-themed outfits with “MAGA” hats and sequined jackets.

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Members of his family and his presidential administration were booed like celebrities in the hallways and dominated the list of speakers. A handful of other potential and declared candidates did not name Trump, who spoke only to receive applause.

And the annual CPAC Straw Poll, an unscientific poll of attendees, found Trump the top choice as the party’s nominee with 62% support, trailed by DeSantis at 20% and businessman Perry Johnson, who made his long-shot bid at the convention. announced, with 5%.

Nearly all – 95% of respondents – said they approved of Trump’s performance as president.

Trump told reporters before his speech that he would continue his third presidential campaign even if convicted. He is being investigated by prosecutors probing his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia and his handling of classified documents by the US Justice Department, among other issues.

He condemned all investigations as being politically motivated and vowed that criminal charges would not deter him.

“Oh, of course, I can’t even think of quitting,” he told reporters, “Maybe, it will boost my numbers, but it’s a very bad thing for America. It’s very bad for the country.”

“This is an audience that supports President Trump,” Rep. said Alice Stefanik, R.N.Y., the No. 3 House Republican who endorsed Trump just days before he officially launched his 2024 campaign.

Stefanik, the only member of the House leadership who attended the conference, told The Associated Press that Trump remained the party’s leader.

“President Trump is in a very strong position and I think he will be the Republican nominee,” she said.

While Trump did not launch widely against his potential challengers for the White House, many of whom were pitching themselves to conservative donors near his Florida home this week, he repeatedly criticized the Republican Party’s old Criticized the defender, who is eager to pass them on. ,

“We’ve had a Republican Party ruled by cynics, neo-cons, globalists, open borders fanatics and fools. But we’re never going back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and Jeb Bush,” he said .

He only lifted a veil on DeSantis by calling out those proposing to raise the age for Social Security or privatize Medicare – DeSantis has expressed support in the past but has since left. “We as Republicans are not going to mess with Social Security,” DeSantis said recently.

Trump told the crowd, “If it’s their core idea, they always come back to it.”

Trump threaded his speech with grievances related to his tenure in office and took a second to outline his agenda, which included bans on gender-affirming care and transgender athletes, which drew some of the strongest applause from the room and the speeches was a recurring theme. Four day conference.

While many top Republicans stayed away from the convention, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a likely candidate, and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced her candidacy last month, both spoke out on Friday and criticized Trump. His refusal to call out his name underscored the risks of offering an alternative to challengers in a party in which Trump remains the dominant force.

Waverly Woods, a Republican activist and marketer from Virginia Beach, Virginia, said, “There is nobody in the area that I want as our president other than Donald J. Trump,” adding that she preferred DeSantis, But Trump has first claim on hearts. Many at the convention.

This includes Woods’ occasional local GOP race partner, Kim Shards, whose car has a “Trump Won” license plate.

DeSantis? She likes him, she said, but not enough. She wants the governor to sit down “and let my man come in and run this country,” Shards said.

But not everyone at CPAC was on board.

E. Payne Kilborn, a retired Navy submarine captain from Nevitt, Maryland, who now writes and advocates for carbon dioxide, said he was “very, very” happy with Trump’s presidency, but now thinks It’s time to move the party forward.

“I think Donald Trump is very toxic to most of the country,” said Kilborn, 69, an independent who votes for Republicans in the general election and wants Trump to “bow down and just hang around the curtains.” Be the man in the back.”

Strategically, he sees DeSantis as better positioned to eventually win the White House.

“I think he’ll have a better chance of getting elected,” he said.

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