Trump reasserts his dominance over the Republican Party

AP
Washington Hispanic:

Republican leaders spent much of three days dodging Donald Trump’s denunciations of the past election, or ignoring him outright, rallying behind a message designed to win back voters the former president alienated during his tenure.

But by the end of the four-day Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump had reminded those seeking to turn the page that he remains the most powerful voice in Republican politics.

During his speech on Saturday night, the former president indicated that he plans to run for the presidency for the third time, in 2024. He falsely attributed his defeat in the 2020 elections to widespread electoral fraud, for which there is no evidence. And on Sunday he was the undisputed winner of a poll of preferences of presidential candidates among conference attendees.

“We’ve done it twice, and we’ll do it again,” Trump said of running for office in the upcoming election. Still, he’s spoken of launching into the 2024 campaign before, and his promise this time didn’t necessarily seem set in stone.

At a time when Russian troops invading Ukraine are clashing with Ukrainian soldiers, Trump also called Russian President Vladimir Putin “smart.”

“Of course he’s smart,” Trump said in his remarks on Saturday, redoubling praise for the Russian leader that many other Republicans have avoided in the aftermath of the invasion. “But the real problem is that our leaders are fools. Fools. Very silly.”

While Trump expressed support for the Ukrainian people and called the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a “brave man,” he also noted that he has ties to prominent autocrats. Specifically, he pointed to his friendly relations with China’s Xi Jinping and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un.

Until Trump spoke, the lies about voter fraud, which were the focus of last year’s conference, had been an afterthought among the main speakers. No one replicated Trump’s approving rhetoric toward Putin. And some top Republicans didn’t even mention Trump’s name.

Instead, Republicans seen as most likely to try for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, and not named Trump, have coalesced around an agenda that includes more parental control of schools, opposition to mandates related to the pandemic and a firm rejection of the so-called “woke” culture.

The message from more than a half-dozen elected officials, addressed to thousands of mostly white activists, at an event often celebrating far-right rhetoric, does not mean the party has turned its back on Trumpism.

Not at all. The former president was a frequent topic among some of the conference’s lower-profile speakers. T-shirts proclaiming “Trump Won” were sold in the aisles.

And in the poll of 2,574 conference attendees, Trump got 59%, followed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at 28%. No one else recorded more than 2%.