DALLAS – Republicans from around the U.S. are converging on Dallas, Texas for the second Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this year, a confab that’s expected to demonstrate former President Donald Trump’s continued hold on the GOP while highlighting other Republican stars as the midterm elections near.
The conference, as with the event CPAC held in Orlando in February, is going to be headlined by Trump himself on Sunday. Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s son and chief surrogate, speaks Friday.
The Dallas event does not have as deep a lineup of conservative heavy hitters as the Orlando conference – there is usually only one CPAC per year, in February – but the event will still feature a number high-profile Republicans including potential 2024 presidential contenders.
Among the top speakers are South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott, R-Fla., Former Acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell, Former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and more.
Former President Donald Trump walks out to speak during the final day of the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hyatt Regency Orlando on Sunday, Feb 28, 2021 in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images) ((Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images))
Here are some of the major themes to look out for during CPAC 2021: America Uncanceled.
Open for business
There will be no masks, no social distancing and no coronavirus-related health screenings for the thousands of attendees at the conference – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifted all of Texas’ health restrictions in March. American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp says that’s a large part of why he decided to bring the conference to Texas.
“During CPAC Orlando with [Florida] Gov. [Ron] DeSantis’ leadership, you know, they opened up Florida,” Schlapp told Fox News. “When we got back from CPAC Orlando we said, look, Texas is the next big state, they’re open. We should reward them and we should do another big conference. We didn’t know how big it would be, but it’s going to be a big one.”
Schlapp added that Texas was a natural choice for another conference as it’s “a mega red state.”
“There’s a re-sorting in America of people who want to have open schools, open churches,” Schlapp continued. “People who want to thrive economically without a lot of government help are moving to states like Texas and Florida and South Carolina and other places.”
Lifting COVID restrictions is likely to be a significant part of the CPAC discussion. There’s a panel Saturday titled “Are the Leftovers from the Pandemic Here to Stay?” which will feature COVID-skeptic Alex Berenson and Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., which is expected to discuss issues like mask mandates on public transportation and vaccines.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott attends a press conference where he signed Senate Bills 2 and 3 at the Capitol on June 8, 2021 in Austin, Texas. American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp lauded Abbott in an interview with Fox News for ending his state’s COVID restrictions. (Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images) (Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)
Another panel, which will feature former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, is titled, “Is America Prepared to deal with the Pandemic of Misery & Addiction Caused by the Opioid Crisis?” The effect of COVID lockdowns on addiction could be a significant topic in that Sunday discussion.
The Orlando conference in February took on Trump’s personality, with Make America Great Again hats speckling the crowd and a massive golden statue of the former president sitting in the main conference hall. If there was a question whether Trump was still the leader of the GOP, it ended with CPAC Orlando – Trump won 55% of the vote in the 2024 presidential straw poll. DeSantis took a distant second with 21%.
The Dallas event is likely to be much of the same.
Among the booths on the CPAC Central floor is one for USATrumpStore.com. Another is called Latinos for America First. There’s a booth called the MAGA Mall. And another for something – or perhaps someone – called the Deplorabear.
“The conservative movement is firmly behind President Trump, and he is leading,” Schlapp told Fox News. “And where people lead, and where people fight socialism, you will find millions of Americans cheering them on.”
It remains to be seen whether the golden Trump statue will make a return at CPAC Dallas.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) ((AP Photo/John Raoux))
Since the Orlando event, Trump’s hold on the GOP has only become clearer. GOP politicians have flocked to Mar-a-Lago to seek Trump’s endorsement.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has worked to smooth over tensions within the party and get Trump on board to help House Republicans in 2022. And the House GOP Conference jettisoned Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., as their chairwoman over her denunciations of Trump’s false claims that the presidential election was stolen.
When asked whether the GOP’s continued embrace of one man is the right direction for the party, Schlapp said that it is.
“Who got the vice president to go to the border? Donald Trump did by continuing to lead on the need to finish the wall and secure the border,” Schlapp said. “Who is the person now taking the lead in the fight against big tech? Donald Trump… If other people want to lead the party, start leading, start fighting, stop criticizing Trump.”
Schlapp added: “We’re about to have the country slip into European socialism and some Republicans just want to fight about 1/6, or Donald Trump, or Twitter, and I have no time for any of that.”
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, U.S., February 28, 2019. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque )
The 2024 Republican presidential field remains frozen as long as Trump is considering a run. But there are still many important 2022 midterm elections coming up and some Republicans will use CPAC as a forum to woo those on the right to their cause.
Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon will be a speaker at the event, and she is angling to use CPAC to build momentum behind her campaign, Fox News is told. Hice, meanwhile, is running a primary challenge against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in 2022.
But according to Schlapp, the Texas candidates may be the most interesting to watch.
“In Texas what’s really interesting is there’s a lot of primaries. And we’re letting the incumbent and the primary opponents speak because we’re not cancel culture. We actually let people talk. And that’s how Republicans do things,” Schlapp said.
The race for Texas attorney will be front and center.
Ken Paxton, the sitting attorney general, will deliver remarks on Sunday morning. Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, running against him, will speak on Friday.
George P. Bush, who is also running for the AG job, is not on the speakers schedule. But his campaign does have a booth at CPAC Central, the massive convention floor full of exhibitions.
Allen West, the firebrand former chairman of the Texas Republican Party, is running a primary campaign against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. He speaks on Sunday morning.
And Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who has yet to announce a campaign for higher office but is has been speculated about as a potential candidate in 2022, speaks Sunday afternoon.