OXON HILL, Maryland — Republicans arrived at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference in a confident mood, talking past last year’s middling midterm results and predicting victory in 2024. President Joe Biden, who’d surprised them by winning in 2020 and holding onto Democratic seats in 2022, was an afterthought.
“I don’t know how [Biden] could make it two more years, and I do think the Democrats probably are already looking for alternate candidates,” said Dixie Ferguson, a 79-year old ex-social worker from Washington state, “They have such a weak field. I honestly can’t think of anybody — I mean, Marianne Williamson is not a solution.”
In conversations around the Gaylord National Resort just outside D.C., hosting the conference for the first time since 2020, attendees said they were confident that Donald Trump or any Republican who could beat him for the nomination would win in 2024. Some were skeptical that Biden would even be on the ballot.
“I couldn’t have seen him as the nominee last time,” said Steve Merczynski, 56, the New York-based seller of “MAGA Hammocks” with patriotic and pro-Trump messages. “It all depends what they do in their smoke-filled or marijuana-filled rooms, where they decide which puppet they’re going to put up there.”
Dave and Shelby's View
Last year’s CPAC conferences in Orlando and Houston bristled with energy, with speaker after speaker predicting a “red tsunami” that would wipe out the Democrats, then a Trump restoration in 2024.
The first days of this year’s gathering had a slightly different tone, but overall not a lot of introspection on how that prophecy went wrong. Florida Sen. Rick Scott blamed Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell for the party’s disappointment. Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt promised that Republicans would convince the Supreme Court to stop Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, which hadn’t generated the voter backlash that the party had hoped for. And Tennessee Sen. Bill Hagerty looked ahead to the next election.
“I’m going to be a United States senator a hell of a lot longer than Joe Biden will be president of the United States,” he said, to some of Thursday’s loudest applause.
Asked about the president’s re-election bid, CPAC attendees struggled to imagine how he could run again — and who could possibly replace him on the ballot.
“Every day, there's indications that he doesn’t have the mental capacities to be in charge of the most powerful country in the world,” said Sergio de la Peña, 67, a retired U.S. Army colonel who ran unsuccessfully for governor of Virginia in 2021. “But you have to ask yourself, which Democrat wants to be the guy that challenges the guy that just had one of the most successful midterms in recent times? I don't see how they can get him out of the picture.”