Dallas (CNN)As Texas’ battle over voting rights continues to unfold during the special session in Austin, the outrage stoked by former President Donald Trump’s false 2020 election claims was still on full display Saturday a few hours north at the major gathering of conservative activists where Trump will be welcomed as the star attraction Sunday.
Republicans are facing a set of highly competitive midterm elections in 2022 and still attempting to shape an agenda that will break through to voters. But the conversation at the Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend reaffirmed once again that the core activists of the Republican Party have no intention of moving on from Trump or the false claims he has trumpeted that the 2020 election was fraudulent, even though there is no evidence of widespread voting fraud in last year’s contest.
Normally, CPAC events serve as an audition arena for the next slate of future Republican presidential contenders. But there was scarcely a hint of that here this weekend as Trump’s flirtation with another run for president in 2024 has effectively frozen the field — with his Sunday speech serving as the main draw for attendees.
Blue flags adorning a truck in the parking lot bore the slogan “Trump Won.” Exhibition booths overflowed with Trump hats, flags, and other “45” swag. One 2024 T-shirt pictured Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis but only standing next to Trump as his potential vice president. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who will speak Sunday before Trump, mentioned the former president within the first two minutes of her last CPAC speech and has allied herself so closely with him that GOP voters often say they’d like to see her as his No. 2 instead of Mike Pence in 2024.
At a gathering branded as “America UnCanceled,” Donald Trump Jr. warmed up the crowd on Friday night with quick-witted condemnations of cancel culture and digs at Hunter Biden. But his biggest applause line wasn’t even his own. During his speech, an attendee bellowed “Trump won!” eliciting a standing ovation and setting off a round of “Trump” chants.
During a midday Saturday panel that was intended to be a “tough love” assessment of the Republican Party, GOP donor Bubba Saulsbury acknowledged that it has been difficult to shift the attention of both donor and voters to future contests because they are still “livid” about the 2020 outcome.
“I know we need to talk about moving forward, but we’ve got to be honest with ourselves about where we’ve been and what happened,” said Saulsbury, adding that every donor he’s met “believes that there was some level of election fraud.”
“Talking to all the donors — they’re apprehensive to donate to anything but election integrity right now, because their thoughts are, ‘Why am I going to spend my money if it’s not going to be a free and fair electi
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