A GOP divided: Tired Trump fades at CPAC while DeSantis rises at Reagan Library
It's refreshing to see the growing number of Republican leaders like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who are not afraid of Donald Trump.
Nothing burns former President Donald Trump more than a small, low-energy crowd.
That's what he and his supporters got at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, D.C. Headlines described the event as “desolate,” “half-full,” “diminished” and “janky.”
More than anything, it’s clear that Trump and his ilk now dominate the event, which has pushed away more traditional – and actual conservative – politicians and party members.
It's not CPAC, it's 'TPAC'
Former Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hit the nail on the head on ABC News' “This Week”: “You saw the scenes at CPAC, that room was half-full. Let’s not pretend that CPAC is CPAC any more. It’s TPAC, OK? It’s Trump PAC. It’s not CPAC any longer, and only the most desperate people showed up at CPAC to even speak, other than Trump or people within Trump’s orbit.”
GOP strategist Dennis Lennox, who attended CPAC, also said the event revolved around Trump and is no longer conservative.
“It’s now one part tent revival and another part carnival for the America First, MAGA and ultra-MAGA,” Lennox told me. “The CPAC of today is a long way from the movement created by William F. Buckley Jr. and Russell Kirk.”
Meanwhile at the Club for Growth retreat …
This year, who didn’t attend CPAC was more telling than who did. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (and expected presidential contender) declined an invite to speak at the event, and so did former Vice President Mike Pence, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.
Many of these rising Republicans, including DeSantis, instead attended the private Club for Growth donor meeting in Florida. Trump, notably, was not invited. The Club for Growth has long supported conservative candidates who uphold small government ideals.
Who's running against Trump?:Will Nikki Haley 2024 presidential race benefit Republican Party – or Donald Trump?
Presidential contender and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley attended both events, which speaks to her desire to bridge the gap between the Trump wing of the party and those who are ready to move on.
DeSantis, on the other hand, is charting his own course – fully apart from Trump. The rivalry between the two men has heated up in recent months, with Trump openly mocking and threatening DeSantis. DeSantis, smartly, has stayed above the fray.
DeSantis waging war on 'woke'
In addition to his Club for Growth speech last week, DeSantis spoke at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California on Sunday. He is promoting his new book, "The Courage To Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint For America’s Revival."
New College overhaul:DeSantis wants to give Florida college students an anti-woke option. What's the big deal?
It could also read like a blueprint for his 2024 campaign. During his speech, he advocated how Florida is pro-business and pro-freedom and how it’s “where woke goes to die,” which has become a common refrain for the governor.
It’s noteworthy that Trump used similar verbiage Saturday in his CPAC speech when he said, “The era of woke and weaponized government is over.”
Trump is aware of DeSantis’ popularity and sees him as his biggest competition, so he’ll likely continue to copy some of DeSantis’ messaging.
It’s refreshing to see Republicans like DeSantis who aren’t afraid of Trump – and are showing it’s possible to succeed without pledging fealty to the MAGA doctrine.
Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques
More from Ingrid Jacques:
The thought police come for Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming. Better buy the books you want now.
Biden's student loan plan is an abuse of power. Supreme Court must rule against it.
A school choice revolution is storming the country this year. Will your state be next?