[PBS NewsHour]

What this year’s CPAC says about Republican priorities

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WASHINGTON (NewsHour) — For nearly 50 years, conservative grassroots activists have gathered to hear from GOP leaders at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC.

As Republicans debate who is the best candidate to help them win back the White House next year, NewsHour’s Laura Barrón-López reports on what’s gaining traction with the conservative base.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For nearly 50 years, grassroots activists have gathered to hear from GOP leaders at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

    As Republicans debate who is the best candidate to help them win back the White House next year, Laura Barrón-López reports on what’s gaining traction with the party’s right flank.

  • Man:

    Look at all the people loving you right here. Look at Don Jr., Don Jr.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Once a Republican primary season tradition…

  • Fmr. Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK):

    They’re socialists.

  • Michael Lindell, CEO, MyPillow:

    Paper ballots hand-counted.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    … speeches to the party faithful at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC…

  • Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL):

    Vote for Donald J. Trump!

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    … is now a platform for white grievance politics, loyal acolytes of former President Donald Trump.

  • Rep. Matt Gaetz:

    We either get this government back on our side or we defund and get rid of, abolish the FBI, CDC, ATF, DOJ, every last one of them!


  • Laura Barrón-López:

    And election deniers.

    Donald Trump Jr., Son of Donald Trump: I’m the one that’s willing to say this stuff because someone has to.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Tomorrow, Trump delivers the keynote speech to close out the conference.

    But he’s not alone. All of the GOP’s declared presidential candidates are making their case, today, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

    Nikki Haley (R), Presidential Candidate: I’m running for president to renew an America that is strong and proud, not weak and woke.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    And entrepreneur and activist Vivek Ramaswamy.

    Vivek Ramaswamy (R), Presidential Candidate: I am all in on the America first agenda.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Still, this year, several of the party’s leaders, like House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, as well as many of the potential presidential candidates, are sitting out.

    Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott are among those who will not be speaking, opting instead to attend a donor retreat in Florida for the conservative anti-tax group Club for Growth. Haley is going to both events.

  • Al Cardenas, Former Chair, American Conservative Union:

    Well, CPAC and the American Conservative Union specifically were the geese that laid the golden eggs for the Republican conservative movement.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Al Cardenas is a Republican strategist and the former chairman of the American Conservative Union, the organization responsible for organizing CPAC.

  • Al Cardenas:

    I don’t think that most of the folks coming are conservative. I think they’re populists. I think they’re part of this cancel culture. I think they’re deniers, election deniers.

    The CPAC logo
    The CPAC logo is seen at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, Saturday, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. [Alex Brandon | AP]
  • Laura Barrón-López:

    CPAC and its current chairman, Matt Schlapp, are facing a new scandal. In January, Schlapp was accused of groping a GOP campaign aide during the midterm elections, allegations Schlapp denies.

    Cardenas says many 2020 hopefuls are skipping the conference for a different reason.

  • Al Cardenas:

    They’re not coming either by design or by the fact that they don’t want to be participants in a show that is basically laying a crown on Donald Trump’s head.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    A recent “PBS NewsHour”/NPR/Marist poll found that more than half of Republicans say the party would be better off with a 2024 nominee other than Donald Trump.

    But, here at CPAC, with this group of the Republican base, it’s clear it’s still Trump’s party.

  • Ann Katcef, CPAC Attendee:

    I think that DeSantis is a possibility for the future, but not now. Trump deserves to finish what he started. And we need him.

  • Troella Tyznik, CPAC Attendee:

    President Trump is the best president that this nation can have. Right now, there is not anyone that can wear his moccasins.

  • Jaden Heard, CPAC Attendee:

    We know that Trump was a good president, but we think DeSantis will be a good president. Like, it’s really, like, tough.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Trump has won the CPAC straw poll the last two years, and his influence was present again this year. Some of his biggest allies, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, had prime speaking slots to push a far right agenda.

  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA):

    I’m going to be introducing my bill, the Protect Children’s Innocence Act, that will make it a felony to perform anything to do with gender-affirming care on children.


  • Laura Barrón-López:

    In recent weeks, some other would-be candidates like DeSantis have targeted suburban voters, who recently departed the GOP with a tough-on-crime message.

    But for the audience at CPAC, the focus on anti-LGBTQ, anti-transgender and a false belief that K-12 schools teach college-level race and ethnic studies resonated the most.

  • Alex Walton, CPAC Attendee:

    There’s been a lot of focus on the past couple of years on some really important issues, like Critical Race Theory and classrooms and the overall content that they’re teaching in schools. That stuff’s important.

  • Ann Katcef:

    Woke. Woke is divisive and…

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    What is woke?

  • Ann Katcef:

    Woke, that’s where — I have got the Critical Race Theory. You got all the — woke is broad. I mean, I — it’s — to me, it’s the Critical Race Theory, the bathroom thing.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    With months before the primary debates begin, Cardenas says the GOP candidates are still honing their messages and finding their own path to the nomination.

  • Al Cardenas:

    You’re either going to be a pure-blood, anti-woke, pro-culture wars candidate, or you’re not.

    And the candidates who decide to jump into the fray, they have got to wait until either Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis fades away before they have a unique chance, I think

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Though some have yet to officially join the race, most of the 2020 hopefuls will be traveling to the critical early state of Iowa in the coming weeks.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Laura Barrón-López in National Harbor, Maryland.