WASHINGTON — Hundreds of conservative activists gathered near Washington, D.C, to listen to Republican plans, attacks on President Joe Biden and Democrats, and the pleas of prospective GOP presidential candidates – including a Friday speech by Nikki Haley about her challenge to Donald Trump.
Once again, it’s time for CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Haley, the only big-name Republican to announce a presidential run against Trump so far, spoke to CPAC delegates a day before the former president closes the conference with his address on Saturday.
Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Trump-appointed United Nations ambassador, did not address Trump by name in her speech. Instead, she used her time to attack President Joe Biden and “socialist” Democrats, while asking for CPAC support.
“If you’re tired of losing, then put your trust in a new generation,” the 51-year-old Haley told CPAC members.
Here are some other things to look for during Friday’s session.
Haley rails against the “woke” left
Haley spent the majority of her speech criticizing “wokeness,” socialism and reiterating her call for a generational change among lawmakers.
“I am running for President to renew an America that’s strong and proud – not weak and woke,” said Haley.
Taking it one step further Haley compared “wokeness” to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Wokeness is a virus more dangerous than any pandemic hands down,” she said.
Since launching her campaign last month, Haley has called for a generational change among Republican and Democratic lawmakers and proposed mandatory mental competency tests for politicians older than 75. Haley, at 51, is decades younger than both Trump, 76, and President Joe Biden, 80.
Haley once again referenced her relative youth during her CPAC speech.
“Every politician and judge over 75 years old should take a competency test,” she said. “If you want to start at age 50, I’m good with that too.”
Marjorie Taylor Greene attacks trans rights
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., sought to fire up the crowd with attacks on “the left,” education policy, aid to Ukraine, and transgender issues. She did not mention her recent calls for a national “divorce” between red states and blue states.
“When it comes to kids, I think the Republican Party has a duty. We have a responsibility and that is to be the party that protects children,” Greene said as she excoriated transgender rights, to the applause of the audience.
Greene touted her Protect Children’s Innocence Act, which makes it a felony for children to receive gender-affirming care; she introduced the legislation last year and said she will soon re-introduce it this year.
What time does Trump speak at CPAC?
Trump speaks Saturday.
Speaker after speaker at CPAC praised Trump during the first three days of the conference, so it’s no surprise that the former president is scheduled to close the conference with a speech that is scheduled to begin at around 5:25 p.m. ET on Saturday.
What is CPAC?
CPAC is an annual conservative activist meeting first held in 1974. It became famous as a launching pad for Ronald Reagan, the conservative trailblazer who won the presidency in 1980.
This year’s CPAC features of a bevy of Republican heavy hitters – but not as many as in past years.
Speakers include Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and firebrand Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
CPAC delegates also heard from Donald Trump, Jr., who echoed other speakers in attacking anti-Trump Republicans as well as liberal “elites.” The former president’s son urged delegates to “fight back” against Biden, the Democrats and RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) in a “battle for our future.”
A slimmed down CPAC
Not at the conference? Former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, all potential 2024 presidential candidates. DeSantis will make his Iowa debut next week, appearing with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in the first-in-the-nation caucus state on March 10. Haley will return to Iowa two days before DeSantis.
Other Republicans skipping the conference also include Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Conservative politicians are skipping CPAC, as its top organizer Matt Schlapp faces groping allegations from an unnamed Georgia Republican Herschel Walker aide. The staffer is suing Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, according to a report from Politico.
CPAC was noticeably not as well attended as past conventions. The ballroom where high-profile speakers addressed the crowd was half-full.
When is CPAC?
CPAC began Wednesday night at National Harbor, Maryland, near Washington, and concludes with Trump’s speech on Saturday afternoon.
The Trump factor
Trump has taken sly digs at Haley on Truth Social, his social media platform.
“I told Nikki to follow her heart, not her ambition or belief. Who knows, stranger things have happened. She’s polling at 1%, not a bad start!!!” Trump wrote after Haley’s New Hampshire campaign stop last month.
Emerson polling showed Republican primary voters supported Trump 55% compared to 25% who supported DeSantis, a 30 percentage point advantage. Haley garnered 5% of support and Pence received 8% of support.
How much will Trump go after DeSantis or Haley before the CPAC delegates? Tune in Saturday.
CPAC so far
CPAC delegates held a few meetings late Wednesday and all-day sessions on Thursday and Friday. Delegates heard Biden-bashing from a panoply of Republican speakers and forums with titles like “No Chinese Balloons Over Tennessee” and “Sacking The Woke Playbook.”
Some of the speakers stopped in for interviews with radio talk shows and livesteam hosts who ringed the hallway at the cavernous convention center.
As CPAC delegates milled about, volunteers handed out fliers promoting any number of causes, such as opposition to China’s communist government to a documentary called “The Shadow State.”
The speakers included another prospective presidential candidate, former secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Like Haley, Pompeo did not directly take on Trump but concentrated his attacks on Biden and told CPAC members that hard work lies ahead for conservatives who have struggled in recent elections.
“Losing is bad because losing is bad,” he said.