CPAC Conference Has Trump Hats and Trumpinator T-Shirts

From a Wall Street Journal story by Alex Leary and John McCormick headlined “CPAC Has Donald Trump Hats, ‘Trumpinator’ T-Shirts, but No Ron DeSantis”:

Lisa Olson-Marshke walked into Donald Trump’s Maryland office and pulled up a seat behind his desk. On one side was a red “Make America Great Again” hat, along with a gold-wrapped chocolate bar that proclaimed, “Trump was right!”

“It sort of felt like being there,” Ms. Olson-Marshke said of the mock Oval Office at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual four-day gathering that the former president will headline on Saturday as he accelerates his 2024 comeback campaign.

“I’m so excited,” said the 57-year-old from Michigan. “We need him back.”

Throughout the gathering, people have lined up for pictures at the Resolute desk replica, while snatching Trump hats, shirts, stickers, flags, ties, pins, buttons, earrings and rhinestone-studded purses from vendors. For all the talk of the former president’s waning status in the GOP, his strength among his followers is on sharp display inside the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center just outside of Washington.

Mr. Trump is enjoying a bump in recent polls as he looks to hold off a number of potential rivals for the Republican nomination, none more formidable at the moment than Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. A feud between the two has been growing, but many CPAC attendees said they hope it can be resolved: Mr. DeSantis should serve as Mr. Trump’s running mate.

Others were less welcoming. “If DeSantis had courage he’d be here but he doesn’t have courage or loyalty,” said Trisha Hope, 59, of Houston, alluding to the governor’s decision to skip CPAC, along with several other potential presidential candidates and top GOP elected officials. “The establishment has made up their mind, they want DeSantis because they can control him.”

The governor, who was in Florida promoting his new book and on Thursday attended a donor retreat hosted by the conservative group Club for Growth in Palm Beach. Mr. Trump wasn’t invited.

On Friday and Saturday Mr. DeSantis has speaking engagements in Texas and on Sunday will appear at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. It could be several months before he enters the race, but he is steadily laying the groundwork: He will make his first visit to Iowa as a prospective candidate next week.

“This is definitely a Trump crowd,” said Matthew Moore, 21, of North Carolina, who showed up at CPAC wearing a camouflage 2024 DeSantis hat. “It’s better if Trump steps aside. He was a bull in the china shop exposing what was wrong, but it’s going to take someone with a more precise and coordinated strategy to finish what needs to be done.”

Mr. Trump is favored to win an unscientific straw poll of attendees that seeks to measure their 2024 GOP presidential preferences.

Mr. Reagan’s likeness was once inescapable at CPAC. Then came Trump, who refashioned the party into his own image, a brash form of populism illustrated on T-shirts sold in the vending booths. One depicted him as the “Trumpinator,” wearing sunglasses and holding a gun. “I’ll be back,” it read. Another showed him in a Superman-like costume.

“He changed my life,” said Antwon Williams, a 40-year-old from Oklahoma who began selling Trump merchandise full-time in 2016 and refuses to stock DeSantis gear. A top seller at his booth is a shirt reading, “When I die don’t let me vote Democrat.”

CPAC will hear from a few other 2024 hopefuls, including former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has officially entered the race, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“I don’t want to hear any other name but Trump,” said a Florida rapper who goes by the name Forgiato Blow. He has crowned himself the Mayor of Magaville and has a tattoo of Mr. Trump on his thigh. “I’m not a crazy cultist,” he added. “I see what Trump’s done for the country.”

A bearded man who wore a leather vest with “Bikers for Trump” on the back scoffed at the mention of Ms. Haley, pulling out his phone to show a Facebook post he recently made. It recalled how Ms. Haley criticized Mr. Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. “She has no place here,” he said.

That attack, which led to Mr. Trump’s second impeachment in the House (he was acquitted by the Senate both times), wasn’t a point of shame at CPAC. Some attendees handed out yellow ribbons meant to honor the people who were arrested in connection with the riot. For $20, one could purchase a bottle of honey, made to look like Mr. Trump, with half going to support defendants.

This year’s CPAC is showcasing the issues animating the most conservative segment of the GOP as the 2024 presidential campaign starts to accelerate. While some speakers have touched on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, most have focused on cultural and education issues, voting rules and criticism of pandemic mandates and closures.

Panels Thursday included, “Big Tech- Break ‘em Up, Bust ‘em Up, Put ‘em in Jail”; and “Sacking the Woke Playbook.” A Friday session will focus on “The Biden crime family.”

Those attending include Trump acolytes Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake. Donald Trump Jr. and Steve Bannon also have speaking slots, as do Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, National Rifle Association executive Wayne LaPierre and MyPillow Inc. Chief Executive Mike Lindell.

While CPAC has grown into an international brand in recent years—hosting conferences in the U.S., as well as Australia, Brazil, Hungary and Japan—it has run into challenges in the past year.

Matt Schlapp, an ally of Mr. Trump’s who has led the CPAC conference for close to a decade, is facing a civil lawsuit that alleges he fondled a male aide to then-Senate candidate Herschel Walker in Georgia in October without the man’s consent. He has denied the allegations.

CPAC, which began in 1974, has for more than a decade emphasized hard-right conservatives over more mainstream voices, but it has remained a must-do event for many politicians because of the other big name speakers drawing huge crowds, said GOP strategist Mike DuHaime.

“If some speakers bail, it could create a downward spiral in its importance,” he said. “Fewer big name speakers means less appeal to other speakers and likely fewer attendees. The pillow guy with the conspiracy theories is only so much of a draw any more.”

Speak Your Mind