It’s ridiculous to talk about 2024 in March 2021. I’m going to do it anyway.
This past weekend, the Conservative Political Action Convention represented the unofficial start of the 2024 Republican Presidential primary. The main event of the gathering was supposed to be Donald Trump’s first speech since leaving office, but their 2024 straw poll stole the thunder.
The survey found that 68% of attendees favor a Trump comeback bid, while 55% are willing to back him in 2024. As was quickly pointed out, this feels like a bit of a disappointment given just how central a role Trump holds in conservative politics right now.
Historically, however, Trump’s relationship with CPAC has been as tumultuous as his relationship with conservatives as a whole. For instance, his 2011 address to the convention is generally considered a turning point in his political career. Yet in 2016, he pulled out at the last minute as reports of a planned audience walk-out spread.
To further illustrate this particular dichotomy, despite quite publicly exploring a White House run between 2011 and 2016, Trump did not win any CPAC straw polls held during that time. In fact, his only previous victory came when 82% of attendees backed the then-sitting President in 2019.
Trump’s relationship to the convention shouldn’t be too surprising, though, as CPAC itself is prone to sudden shifts. While it’s generally closely aligned with the Republican Party, it’s membership has rebelled at times against moderate incumbents. In 1976 they chose Ronald Reagan over Gerald Ford, for example, and in 1992 picked Pat Buchanon over George H.W. Bush.
Rise of Ron DeSantis, Fall of Mike Pence
For all the talk about Trump, one 2024 hopeful got an even more significant boost. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis scored a strong second place finish, securing the support of 21% of attendees. He ended up far ahead of South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who got the bronze with 4%. Another survey that took Trump out of consideration saw DeSantis’ share rise to 43%, with Noem at 11%.
Given how well DeSantis performed, there’s a possibility that his showing was inflated a bit by a home-field advantage. This year the convention, which usually takes place near D.C., was held in Orlando instead to skirt COVID restrictions.
After all, the Governor is particularly popular among Sunshine State Republicans. A recent poll found that in a hypothetical primary between Gov. DeSantis and Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, DeSantis lapped the field with 64%. So at the very least, he’s the strongest Republican in the still-critical swing state of Florida.
On the other hand, the biggest loser of the straw poll is undoubtedly former Vice President Mike Pence. In both surveys, the one with Trump and the one without him, Pence received just 1%. This suggests that Trump’s anger at his VP for not rejecting the results of the 2020 election is felt by the conservative rank-and-file as well. As long as it does, Pence’s political future is murky at best.