If the 2023 CPAC gathering proved anything, other than the damage sexual assault allegations against founder Matt Schlapp may have done to attendance, it is that there is a deep schism among conservatives as to who they want to be the face of the Republican Party going forward.
In interviews with the mostly pro-Donald Trump conservatives who showed up at what the Guardian's David Smith called a "sparsely-attended" conservative gathering, there were more than a few who are off the Trump train and want Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to be their man on the 2024 presidential ballot.
While some think DeSantis is their only chance to win back the Oval Office, another ripped into him for being a "traitor" for simply considering a presidential run against Trump who has already announced his third bid.
As Smith wrote, "... a glance at the convention centre ballroom revealed row upon row of empty seats. The 'Make America Great Again' (Maga) movement, while vociferous as ever, appeared diminished in size. There was no doubt that former president Trump remained the big fish at the National Harbor in Maryland – but in a smaller pond."
One attendee claimed it is either Trump as the nominee or they are staying home.
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Jason Jisa of Texas had a message for the Florida governor.
"Stay in Florida, stay in your lane. You can do it at a later time. He’s not the man for the job. He’s not up for it. I wouldn’t vote for him. If it’s not Trump, I won’t vote. There is no second choice. There’s one choice and that’s it. You can look at it as a spiritual thing: years ago, this situation we’re in now, has been foretold. We’re living out a prophecy and he’s the guy," Jisa remarked.
Antwon Williams, of South Carolina, chimed in, "He’s being bought off. He was a Trumper and clearly now he has his own agenda. It’s like he used President Trump to get his name to where he needed to be and now all of a sudden he’s onto his own agenda now and that’s not cool," before adding, "Put it this way, DeSantis is to me is what Pence is to me: a traitor. Either you’re with us or you’re against us. Clearly Pence didn’t know the difference between that line and DeSantis is not understanding the difference between that line right now. I have nothing positive to say about him as long as he’s trying to run against us.”
Trump also had his detractors, with Hylton Phillips-Page saying they're a fan of Trump, but that the former president can't win in the general election.
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“I’m involved with the Republican party in a big way and I can tell you when I’m campaigning I meet lots of Republicans who tell me, ‘I’m not voting for Trump,'" the South Carolina Republican relayed. "It’s just a problem and I feel we really can’t afford to take that risk, quite frankly. I have no problem with Trump being president but, once he gets through the primary, DeSantis will have a much better shot at winning the general.”
Wes Gregory of Maryland, sees little difference between the two, saying making a choice would "be a coin flip."
Gregory claimed, "Trump did it on the national level. DeSantis did it on the state level. Everyone’s moving down to Florida – everyone likes it. Trump did a lot of good stuff for the Black community, way more than any other president I can think of in my lifetime," and then added, “They both have a proven track record of excellence.”
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