As the race for the White House begins to heat up, former President Donald Trump emerged from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll by a wide margin, potentially signaling that he could win the Republican nomination for a third time.
When asked who they would like to see be the Republican candidate for the White House in 2024, Trump received 62% of the vote from CPAC attendees. The poll was conducted by McLaughlin & Associates.
The result, an increase from 59% at last year’s conference in Orlando, Fla., signals that the former president may still hold tremendous sway over the party heading into the 2024 election cycle. It also extends Trump’s winning streak in CPAC straw polls to six straight, more than any other individual in the straw poll’s history.
On his Truth Social platform, Trump shared a graphic of the poll with a simple message: “THANK YOU — MAGA!!”, shorthand for his “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has not yet declared his intent to launch a White House bid, came in a distant second place with 20% of the vote, down from 28% last year. DeSantis was followed by Michigan businessman Perry Johnson, who announced his presidential bid over the weekend, came in third with 5%.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who recently launched her 2024 campaign, came in 4th place with 3% support. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky each received 1%, tying them with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and notable figures like former Vice President Mike Pence, former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio each receiving less than 1% of the vote.
In his address at the event, Trump called his third White House bid his "final battle."
“We are going to finish what we started,” Trump told the crowd. “We’re going to complete the mission. We’re going to see this battle through to ultimate victory.”
Rather than slam his 2024 opponents, both official and prospective, the former president took aim at the party's old guard, accusing them of being "RINOs" – short for "Republicans In Name Only."
"We'll appropriately deal with the RINOs," Trump said, adding: "We had a Republican Party that was ruled by freaks, neo-cons, globalists, open borders zealots and fools. But we will never go back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and Jeb Bush."
Without calling anyone out by name, Trump did take a swipe at some of his opponents, specifically on the subject of key entitlement programs Medicare and Social Security.
"We are never going back to the people that want to destroy our great Social Security system," Trump said. "Even some in our own party, I wonder who that might be."
He took only a veiled jab at DeSantis, calling out those who have proposed raising the age for Social Security or privatizing Medicare — positions the Florida governor has expressed support for in the past, but has since abandoned. (“We’re not going to mess with Social Security as Republicans,” DeSantis recently said.)
“If that’s their original thought, that’s what they always come back to," Trump told the crowd.
Trump threaded his speech with grievances related to his term in office and outlined his agenda for a second, including restrictions on gender-affirming care and transgender athletes, which drew some of the strongest applause from the room.
Ahead of his speech, Trump told reporters that he would continue his third presidential campaign even if indicted. He is under investigation by prosecutors probing his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia and by the Justice Department, as well as his handling of classified documents, among other issues.
He condemned all the probes as politically motivated and vowed that criminal charges wouldn’t deter him.
“Oh, absolutely, I won’t even think about leaving,” he told reporters, adding that “probably, it’ll enhance my numbers, but it’s a very bad thing for America. It’s very bad for the country.”
In terms of the 2024 vice presidential nomination, CPAC attendees picked unsuccessful Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake with 20% of the vote.
In a Twitter post, Lake’s campaign wrote: “We’re flattered, but unfortunately our legal team says the Constitution won’t allow for her to serve as Governor and VP at the same time.”
DeSantis came in 2nd in the VP poll as well, with 14% of the vote, followed by Haley with 10%. Just 1% of CPAC attendees surveyed said they would want to see Pence reprise his role as vice president, with 6% undecided and 5% choosing “other.”
Kentucky Sen. Paul received 4% support, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the chair of the House Republican Conference and a rising figure in the Republican Party, received 2%, Florida’s Sens. Rubio and Rick Scott each garnered 1%, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott won 0.4% support.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.