The Dallas Morning News

GOP leaders walk political tightrope at event


OXON HILL, Md. — Two leading Republican­s took veiled jabs at former President Donald Trump at an annual gathering of conservati­ves Friday, knocking “celebrity leaders” not in tune with reality while noting winnable elections that had been lost as they urged a party course correction ahead of the 2024 presidenti­al contest.

But their refusal to call him out by name underscore­d the risks faced by potential and declared challenger­s worried about alienating Trump’s loyal base.

In their remarks, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley — both of whom served in the Trump administra­tion — offered a snapshot of how the former president’s declared and potential 2024 opponents are trying to delicately navigate his dominant role in the party while looking for ways to differenti­ate themselves in what could be a nasty and crowded primary contest.

“We can’t become the left, following celebrity leaders with their own brand of identity politics, those with fragile egos who refuse to acknowledg­e reality,” Pompeo said in an afternoon speech at the Conservati­ve Political Action Conference.

Haley, who launched her campaign last month, hit on similar themes, noting the party has lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidenti­al elections.

“Our cause is right but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans. That ends now. If you’re tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation. And if you want to win — not just as a party, but as a country — then stand with me,” Haley said.

While she received polite applause throughout her speech, several attendees chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” as she walked through the venue.

It was a sign of the dissonance at the event as potential and declared challenger­s tried to make inroads at a gathering that has become closely aligned with the former president. While other declared and likely candidates were offered speaking slots, Trump has been given top billing as the Saturday evening headliner, and his son Donald Trump Jr. has been mobbed throughout the conference by excited fans.

Haley and Pompeo were among a handful of announced or potential Republican presidenti­al candidates who attended the CPAC event, which was once a must-stop for GOP hopefuls but has been less of a draw this year.

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina skipped the event this year as it’s been dimmed by controvers­y and its overt homage to Trump.

Like Haley, Pompeo noted recent Republican losses over the years and blamed the party for its shortcomin­gs.

“We lost race after winnable race. It’s because voters didn’t trust us to do any better than the tax-and-spend liberals,” he said, echoing a criticism raised by some attendees. “Every recent administra­tion, Republican and Democrat alike, added trillions in dollars to our debt. That is deeply unconserva­tive.”

More broadly, he said that voters had “lost trust in conservati­ve ideas.”

“Losing is bad because losing is bad. But the principles that we stand for are what’s really at risk. And it’s not a political problem. The problem is that the losses are a symptom of something much bigger. It’s a crisis in conservati­sm,” he said. “We’ve lost confidence that we are right.”

 ?? Alex Brandon/the Associated Press ?? Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at the Conservati­ve Political Action Conference Friday.
Alex Brandon/the Associated Press Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at the Conservati­ve Political Action Conference Friday.

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