By Associated Press
“I’m going to continue to fight right by your side. We’re not starting new parties,” he said. “We have the Republican Party. It’s going to be strong and united like never before.” Yet Trump spent much of the speech lashing out at those he has deemed insufficiently loyal and dubbed “RINOs” — Republican in name only — for failing to stand with him.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who voted to impeach Trump and has grown increasingly vocal on his criticism of the former president, said in an MSNBC interview Monday that it’s Trump who is a Republican in name only. Kinzinger noted that he was a Republican long before Trump registered as a member of the party and said he would remain a Republican long after Trump.
“We cannot have leaders who show more passion for condemning their fellow Americans than they have ever shown for standing up to Democrats, the media and the radicals who want to turn America into a socialist country,” Trump told the CPAC audience.
Trump did not use his speech to announce plans to run again, but he repeatedly teased the prospect as he predicted a Republican would win back the White House in 2024. “And I wonder who that will be,” he offered. “Who, who, who will that be? I wonder.”
It remains unclear, however, how much appetite there would be for another Trump term, even in the room of staunch supporters.
The conference’s annual unscientific straw poll of just over 1,000 attendees found that 97% approved of the job Trump did as president. But they were much more ambiguous when asked whether he should run again, with only 68% saying he should.
If the 2024 primary were held today and Trump were in the race, just 55% said they would vote for him, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 21%. Without Trump in the field, DeSantis garnered 43% support, followed by 8% for South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and 7% each for former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
While he no longer has his social-media megaphone after being barred from Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR +3.23% and Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB +3.50% , Trump had been inching back into public life even before the speech. He called in to conservative news outlets after talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh’s death and has issued statements, including one blasting Mitch McConnell after the Senate Republican leader excoriated Trump for inciting the Capitol riot. McConnell has since said he would “absolutely” support Trump if he were the GOP nominee in 2024.
At his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump has also been quietly meeting with aides and senior party leaders as he builds his post-presidential political operation. While he has already backed several pro-Trump candidates, including one challenging an impeachment supporter, aides have been working this past week to develop benchmarks for those seeking his endorsement to make sure the candidates are serious and have set up full-fledged political and fundraising organizations before he gets involved.
They are also planning a new super PAC that could raise unlimited amounts of money, though one aide cautioned they were still deciding whether to create a new entity or repurpose an existing America First super PAC.
Trump hinted at the effort Sunday, voicing his commitment to helping elect Republicans and calling on attendees to join him. “I stand before you today to declare that the incredible journey we begun together … is far from being over,” he said.