After former President Donald Trump’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee — his first public event since leaving office — a straw poll of attendees indicated Republicans are supportive of his priorities, but his personal support may be slightly slipping.
Just over half of respondents — 55 percent — called Trump their preferred candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination in the CPAC straw poll. Sixty-eight percent said they wanted him to run again — a strong majority, but perhaps a bit underwhelming for an event that was so dedicated to the former president, it featured a golden statue of him.
In contrast, an overwhelming 95 percent said they supported the GOP advancing Trump’s agenda and policies, suggesting his voters might be more interested in the direction he took the party than in the man himself.
The CPAC straw poll, while interesting, is not necessarily predictive — the last time it predicted the eventual nominee was 2012, according to Punchbowl News’ Jake Sherman.
CPAC staw poll winners:— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) February 28, 2021
2010: Ron Paul
2011: Ron Paul
2012: Mitt Romney
2013: Rand Paul
2014: Rand Paul
2015: Rand Paul
2016: Ted Cruz
Still, Karl Rove, a Republican political operative and former adviser to George W. Bush, said on Fox News that the relatively low polling numbers at CPAC, of all places, should concern the former president.
“This is the truest Trump believers,” Rove said. “And for him to only get 55 percent says he is losing strength because he’s not introducing something new. He’s losing strength whether he recognizes it.”
The CPAC poll stands in contrast to other recent findings. A Politico/Morning Consult poll taken from February 19 to 22 found that Trump had a 79 percent approval rating among Republicans, higher than the 69 percent of support seen for congressional Republicans and an abysmal 34 percent for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
A Suffolk University/USA Today poll found that 46 percent of Trump voters surveyed would leave the party in favor of a Trump-created third party if he took that route. (Trump said at CPAC that he would not create a splinter party.) Half of them want the GOP to take a stronger pro-Trump stance.
Another Politico/Morning Consult poll taken from February 14 to 15, after his second impeachment trial, found similar support to the CPAC straw poll — 54 percent said they would support a Trump bid in the 2024 primary, and 59 percent said he should play a major role in the party going forward. But the nearly identical CPAC finding is surprising given Trump’s popularity at the event, which brings together some of the most dedicated factions of the GOP base.
While the CPAC poll numbers were a bit lower than the approval Trump has enjoyed in other polls, he still holds a significant majority over other potential 2024 competitors, and widespread approval among his base.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis finished second in the straw poll, with 21 percent choosing him as their first-choice candidate — a potential nod to DeSantis’s popularity in the Orlando event’s host state. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem finished in a distant third, with 4 percent.
In a poll that did not include the former president, DeSantis and Noem bested third-place finisher Donald Trump Jr. and fourth-place candidate Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state, suggesting CPAC attendees may be interested in new — albeit pro-Trump — blood, as opposed to Trump’s family and former administration officials.
Republicans are still very deferential toward the former president
The 95 percent approval for Trump’s policies, and an additional finding that 97 percent of CPAC attendees approved of Trump’s performance as president, indicate he still holds sway over the GOP, even if he doesn’t run again. And other Republicans’ speeches at the conference underscored the kingmaker role he could hold going forward.
As Vox’s Aaron Rupar writes, McCarthy used his time at the event to demonstrate House Republicans’ fealty to Trump.
If you watched House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Saturday panel discussion at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) after spending four months in a coma, you’d not only think that there was no January 6 insurrection aimed at overthrowing former President Donald Trump’s election loss, but that Trump actually won a second term.
McCarthy’s remarks in particular — and CPAC 2021 in general — illustrate how whatever second thoughts the Republican establishment had about Trump following the insurrection have fallen by the wayside. And they were a reminder that although Trump did lose reelection, he remains a popular, and therefore powerful, figure in the Republican Party.
McCarthy didn’t make the former president the focus of his remarks, but was quick to praise Trump early during his event, crediting the former president for Republicans picking up seats in the House of Representatives following last November’s election.
Trump, who rewards loyalty and weaponizes dissent, used part of his speech to name and shame the Republicans who voted to impeach him. He criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who he has publicly sparred with over McConnell’s support of the impeachment trial, though he ultimately voted to acquit.
In a sign of how Republicans are likely to coalesce around Trump’s popularity, McConnell said he would “absolutely” support Trump if he won the nomination in 2024 — personal attacks notwithstanding.