When Donald Trump takes the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, he can rest assured that his grip on the Republican base is as secure as ever, at least as far as merchandise is concerned.
Row after row after row proclaiming ‘Women for Trump’, ‘Trump 2024’ and ‘God, Guns and Trump’.
The 26th row is Ron DeSantis’ roster. Two peaks and four caps with ‘DeSantisland: Make America Florida’ logos.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” says Caroline Hesse, who runs the stall, “but I think DeSantis is more on the side of the RINO,” a favorite Trump phrase for Republicans in Name Only.
DeSantis is not even a candidate yet, but is often cited as the candidate most likely to see Trump fight for the Republican nomination.
Donald Trump dominated the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, Maryland, before he was due to speak on Saturday
Trump had fallen behind Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in some recent polls, but reopened a lead this week according to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll released Tuesday
When CPAC met in Orlando last year due to tighter COVID restrictions at its usual home in Maryland, the home field meant there were many supporters of the Florida governor.
In fact, he took 28 percent of the ballot for the conference’s presidential nomination
And when the organization met in Dallas last summer, there were signs that the MAGA world could be ready for a younger generation of leaders in the shape of DeSantis.
With CPAC back in its usual home just outside Washington DC, Trump’s grip was back.
Allies like his former strategist Steve Bannon and the “Godzilla of Truth” John Fredericks broadcast from the corridors of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.
MyPillow founder turned election denier and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell posed for photos with young men dressed in the Trump uniform or navy blue suit, white shirt and red tie.
“You can see it’s 100 percent behind Trump,” he told DailyMail.com. Ron DeSantis is the Trojan horse of the Republican Party. He’s terrible.’
For Lindell, the Florida governor’s crime involved meeting with a lawyer for Dominion Voting Systems, the company currently suing for libel after pushing false claims that its technology was responsible for recording election results.
Seats left empty during the speech of former South Carolina governor and 2024 Republican presidential nominee Nikki Haley
Trump is still the most lucrative figure for sellers. Only a handful of DeSantis hats were on display among dozens and dozens of Trump-branded headgear
Supporters can buy a ‘Ginger Donald’ cookie. But there was no DeSantis equivalent
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was among former Trump administration staffers this week to draw crowds at CPAC
donald trump jr. was another crowd favorite who gave a speech to attendees
Trump still has a strong hold on the Republican base, at least among CPAC attendees
He may have his own ax to sharpen. But Trump has enjoyed a bump in recent polls after DeSantis appeared to be eating into his front-runner status without even running.
A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released Tuesday gave Trump an eight-point lead over the Florida governor. DeSantis has led Trump in that poll for the past three months.
Gorgeous in a sequined red jackey and a yellow T-shirt emblazoned with the letter U (meaning TRUMP when standing next to her fellow Trump Tribe members), Melissa Cornwell never wavered.
“He’s done almost everything he set out to do, and we need him to get the job done,” she said. “Yes, he’s not a politician, but that means he’s not afraid to tell the truth.”
But unlike some of the other attendees, she sees a future star in DeSantis.
Without Trump, there were plenty of empty seats at CPAC on Friday afternoon
Trump loyalist Rep. Matt Gaetz was one of the Friday morning speakers (seen here with Don Jr), a day before Trump was due to close the conference with a Saturday night speech
Former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer was another speaker at CPAC on Friday
Trump’s image in this case is used to sell everything from T-shirts to cigars
“We would like to see him vice president to Donald Trump and then president for eight years,” she said.
“We think he can grow a lot. And when he comes into his own, he must be unstoppable.’
DeSantis is not speaking at CPAC. Nor are other potential rivals for the nomination, such as Mike Pence. Trump allies say this means they’re not crazy.
“I’m not with CPAC, I’m with TPAC,” Fredericks, the Trump-affiliated radio host, said. “The Trump movement has taken over CPAC.
“The Neo-Cons, the warmongers, the establishment Republicans, and the other RINOS who have destroyed the country and are taking us to war…they won’t show up here.”
They may not be here. But members of the Trump administration are on their feet.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer, spokesman Hogan Gidley, adviser Sebastian Gorka, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson are treated like rock stars, posing for selfies and screaming.
So do family members of Trump, including son Don Jr. and daughter-in-law Lara.
Back in the exhibitor hall, there isn’t much love for DeSantis.
“He can wait his turn,” said Sany, who runs USATrumpStore.com with his bejeweled pistol-shaped wallets and Trump messenger bags.
She described herself as a MAGA Republican and said she would sit out the next election if DeSantis won the nomination.
“If it’s anyone other than Trump, I’m not going to vote,” she said. “That’s how I hate the Republican Party.”