5 things to watch at CPAC

Former President Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and former White House strategist Stephen Bannon are just a few of the names conservatives will hear from as CPAC Texas 2022 kicks off later this week.  

Quite a bit has changed since the Conservative Political Acton Conference last met in February: The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot held public hearings further scrutinizing Trump’s role in the attack, recent polling has shown voters less than enthused about another Trump presidential bid and some Republicans have taken steps typical of presidential hopefuls.  

With some of those developments in the backdrop of the Dallas conference, here are five things we’re watching for ahead of CPAC: 

What role does Trump play? 

Trump has long been the star of CPAC, and his speech Saturday is expected to draw a large and enthusiastic crowd, but some voices in and out of the GOP have increasingly questioned his grip on the party. 

While polls still show him firmly ahead of other potential 2024 rivals, his lead is softening and his endorsements this cycle have been a mixed bag. 

Republican strategist Terry Sullivan, however, said that CPAC’s attendees do not represent all Republican voters and predicted Trump will receive a warm reception. 

“I know the popular media narrative right now is the weakening of Donald Trump. Don’t know if that’s true or not, but I will say that you’re not going to find out at CPAC. … He will do really well there,” Sullivan predicted. 

 With Trump increasingly teasing another presidential run, what he says in his speech — and the audience’s reaction — will be another indication of where the former president and the party are headed.  

What other potential 2024 hopefuls stand out? 

Trump is not the only possible 2024 presidential contender whom conservatives will be watching for at CPAC. 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) — all of whom are rumored to be considering presidential bids — will also deliver remarks. The tone and subjects of those remarks could drive that speculation even further. 

According to CPAC’s agenda, Cruz is supposed to deliver a speech and Abbott is supposed to participate in a discussion with CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp and Mercedes Schlapp on “Texas: The Start of the Big Red Wave.”

Scott is supposed to deliver a speech on the “Plan to Rescue America.”

But some of the names most often mentioned as serious 2024 contenders are not listed as speakers, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and former Vice President Mike Pence. 

Nor are South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley or former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, all of whom are considered possible presidential candidates and also have not made any formal announcements. 

DeSantis’s and Pence’s presence will nonetheless almost certainly be felt at CPAC, and how they, and other potential hopefuls, are treated will be closely watched.  

Trump won the straw poll in the last conference with 59 percent of attendees supporting him in a hypothetical primary match-up, while DeSantis came out victorious when Trump’s name was removed. 

How are the Jan. 6 hearings addressed? 

One elephant in the room could be this summer’s public hearings by the select House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.  

Members of the committee have spent the summer painting a picture of Trump being ultimately responsible for the chaos.

But Republicans have largely tuned them out. 

“I don’t think the House select committee hearings are going to have any impact on the straw poll voters at CPAC. CPAC attendees haven’t watched one minute of the House select committee, unless it was on Fox making fun of it,” Sullivan said.  

Still, the investigation has involved a number of Republicans, including Bannon, who was convicted last month after he refused to cooperate with the House panel’s subpoena, and Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), whom the panel said in letter “had an important role in the efforts to” install Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general, citing evidence from multiple witnesses.  

Both Bannon and Perry will be speaking at CPAC. 

What campaign themes do Republicans hammer ahead of the midterms? 

The midterm elections are now just three months away, and Republicans have already seized on issues like inflation and border security to make their case to voters.  

In addition to economic issues, Republicans have also hammered topics like crime, abortion, LGBTQ rights and education issues. 

To be sure, Democrats are facing several headwinds ahead of November: Inflation continues to grow, Biden’s approval rating continues to lag and there’s a general precedent that the president’s party suffers some losses in the midterms.  

But Democrats have also hailed some key victories in recent weeks, and it remains to be seen how those are addressed. 

While Sullivan said that he was unsure if the messaging at CPAC would have much to do with the midterms, noting that their messaging was “to the conservative base and CPAC attendees,” it might offer some clues as to what messaging might resonate the best with that part of the base. 

How do conservatives receive Orbán? 

Perhaps the most controversial speaker at CPAC is Orbán, who is slated to deliver a speech called “How We Fight.”  

Considered a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Orbán won a fourth term to serve as Hungary’s prime minister in April and has spoken at CPAC before. 

The right-wing leader came under criticism last month for a speech he made in which he said that Europeans “do not want to become peoples of mixed race,” which led an adviser to the Hungarian prime minister to resign in protest. 

Orbán endorsed Trump’s presidency in 2016 and the former president has returned the favor, supporting him ahead of his April election.