5 things to watch at this year’s CPAC

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Conservative activists are gathering outside Washington for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this week.

The event, which is slated to take place Wednesday through Saturday, will feature leading GOP figures, including former President Trump, Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio), Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), and former United Kingdom Prime Minister Liz Truss.

Trump and his supporters have dominated the conference in recent years. This week, much of the attention will likely be on which potential vice-presidential pick will win the CPAC straw poll. Additionally, speakers could weigh in on several major issues, including abortion and future U.S. support for Ukraine.

Here are five things to watch ahead of this year’s CPAC:

What does Trump say?

CPAC will coincide with the South Carolina primary this year, with the conference’s final day taking place as voters head to the polls. Trump, who is leading former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley in the state, is slated to speak at CPAC on Saturday afternoon.

As with recent conferences, most of the attention will be on what Trump does and says. He will likely talk about South Carolina, where he is expected to dominate. Additionally, he could take the opportunity to hit Haley, who has become a pariah for much of the CPAC audience, which largely comprises Trump supporters.

Trump could also address his ongoing legal issues, a sure way to fire up his fans at the gathering. Over the weekend, Trump appeared at Sneaker Con, where he unveiled his new branded sneakers. The day before, during a campaign rally in Michigan, the former president slammed the New York judge who ordered him to pay nearly $355 million in penalties in his civil fraud case.

The former president also could touch on foreign policy while speaking to the largely “America First” crowd. Trump has made headlines recently for criticizing NATO, particularly for suggesting he would encourage Russia to attack NATO allies who were not contributing enough to defense spending. On Monday, Trump addressed the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny for the first time, comparing Navalny’s death to his legal issues.

Does he talk about abortion?

Abortion has been a losing issue for Republicans since Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022. Trump appointed multiple conservative judges who played major roles in the decision. However, the former president has avoided saying whether he would support a national abortion ban if elected president.

Last week, Trump’s campaign pushed back against a New York Times report saying has told advisers and allies that he favors a 16-week ban on abortion that includes exceptions for cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother.

The campaign said the former president would “sit down with both sides and negotiate a deal that everyone will be happy with.”

The comments came after Democrats were quick to pounce on the Times reporting, with President Biden warning in a statement that Trump “is running to rip away your rights.”

Who wins the CPAC VP straw poll?

With Trump on track to win the South Carolina primary and much of the conservative base considering him to be the presumptive nominee, all eyes are on who will win the vice presidential straw poll.

Trump’s veepstakes is already in full swing. Potential contenders include South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott (R), Noem, Stefanik, Vance, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.

CPAC’s straw polls are seen as a reflection of where the conservative activist base is, and Trump and his team will likely be watching who comes out first in the running mate straw poll this year.

How is Ukraine addressed?

In addition to overlapping with the South Carolina primary, CPAC will also coincide with the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And despite Ukraine initially receiving widespread support from Americans of all political stripes, two years later, Republicans are divided over whether the U.S. should continue to fund the country in their fight against Russia.

The divide has been on display in recent weeks, with Trump suggesting Russian President Vladimir Putin should attack NATO members who do not pay their share to the alliance. And last week, while 22 GOP senators voted for a foreign aid package that included funds for Ukraine, Trump, his allies in the House and some Republican senators — including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — voted against the measure.

Much of the conservative activist base, influenced by Trump, has embraced the idea of “America First” in its attitudes toward foreign policy. This approach will likely be on display at CPAC this week, particularly in the context of Ukraine.

Do GOP moderates attend?

CPAC used to be considered a big-tent event for the Republican Party, with conservatives of all stripes convening for the annual gathering. But over the years, CPAC has transformed into a largely pro-Trump space with little to no room for dissent.

Most speakers tend to tout his “America First” platform, while his critics have been largely unwelcome. Last year, Haley was heckled and booed during her address at the conference, while Trump allies — like Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake — received a warm welcome.

This year’s speakers include conservative figures and personalities like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and former Trump White House advisers Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.

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