Former President Donald Trump bathed in the adulation of an adoring crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference Sunday as he easily won the informal straw poll of attendees when they were asked who they’d like to see run for the White House in 2024.
The political gathering normally serves as an audition for Republican presidential contenders, but the three-day session was yet another example of how Trump has effectively frozen the field more than three years before the next election as he teases another possible run.
Trump accused big tech companies of skewing the votes in the 2020 election through censorship and he chided the press for stating that there is no widespread evidence of voter fraud. He accused the “radical left” of cheating and called the 2020 election “a disgrace to our nation.”
“We are truly being scorned and disrespected all over the world. Never forget that the radical left is not the majority in this country. We are the majority and it’s not even close,” Trump said as the crowd cheered and chanted “USA! USA! USA!”
Trump once again teased a 2024 run on Sunday: “I could have a nice, beautiful life and here I am on a Sunday in Texas.” The crowd began to chant “Four more years! Four more years!”
Though Republicans are looking ahead to next year’s midterm elections as they try to craft an effective line of attack against a popular President and his administration. But there was no issue more dominant at the CPAC gathering in Dallas than Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent, even though there is no evidence of widespread voting fraud in last year’s contest.
Trump accused Democrats of using the law and the powers of government to silence “their political opponents” and advance “the radical agenda of their party.” He alluded to the fact that his former personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has now had his law license suspended in Washington, DC, and also temporarily lost his license in New York after advancing election lies.
“The radical left Democrats are turning the law itself into a weapon for partisan persecution,” Trump said. “Look at what they’re doing to incredible people like Rudy Giuliani.”
“There are now two sets of laws in this country – one for the left wing mob, the rioters and the rampagers … who can do whatever the hell they want to whomever they want to do it. And there is another set of rules for law-abiding conservative Americans who happen to be Republicans, who simply want to speak their minds and exercise their rights to talk about the election,” he said.
At a gathering branded as “America UnCanceled,” election integrity ranked as the top issue facing the country for CPAC attendees when measured by the organization’s straw poll. When gauging interest in the potential 2024 White House candidates, organizers asked attendees to answer two questions ranking their top choice. One question included Trump on the list and the other did not.
The straw poll is an unscientific survey of attendees and is not reflective of broader Republican electorate.
But Trump topped the list of roughly a dozen candidates that included him with 70%, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis won the support of 21% in the informal survey.
DeSantis, who did not even draw a mention by name from Trump during the former President’s recent rally in Florida, was the clear winner when Trump was not a contender.
DeSantis was backed by 68% of CPAC attendees in the second question omitting the former President on the informal poll, followed by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at 5% and Donald Trump Jr. at 4%. Trump’s approval rating amongst CPAC attendees was 98%.
While many CPAC attendees railed against critical race theory, “cancel culture,” and the hand of government as a looming “big brother” hovering over Americans’ lives and decisions during the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump’s insistence that his 2020 contest with Joe Biden was rigged is still dominating the GOP agenda eight months after the election.
Republican-led states have advanced scores of restrictive voting laws, justifying their actions by citing Trump’s nonsensical claims that there was widespread election fraud. Florida and Georgia have already passed laws curtailing access to the ballot, and Texas lawmakers are engaged in a special session of the Legislature debating their own proposals that could make it harder to vote. During the 2021 legislative sessions, the Brennan Center for Justice tracked at least 389 bills to restrict voting that were introduced in 48 states.
GOP lawmakers have also tried to advance post-election audits to undermine confidence in the democratic system as they attempt to curry favor with Trump. Some Republican lawmakers have cited the so-called audit in Maricopa County, Arizona, as a model for potential reviews in their states.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott used his moment in the CPAC spotlight Sunday to condemn the For the People Act, calling it a political power grab and accusing Democrats of playing the race card to defend the proposed legislation.
“We should call it what it is, it’s called the corrupt politicians act,” Scott told the crowd. “They don’t want free and fair elections, they want elections only Democrats can win.”
Scott made the case for voter ID laws and encouraged Republicans to remain steadfast in their pursuit of state-based legislation that, in many instances, could make it more difficult for constituents to vote.
“Voter ID is not racist, it’s common sense,” Scott said. “Our goal is maximum participation and zero fraud – period.”
Democrats have condemned the voting legislation proposed in many GOP-led states as “Jim Crow 2.0.” But Scott said Republicans shouldn’t fear that their efforts to pass voter restrictions could be criticized as racist.
“We’ve got to stop being intimidated,” Scott said. “They’re going to call us racist no matter what we do.”
CNN’s Sara Murray contributed to this report.