Former President Trump and his ex-United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley are set to give dueling addresses at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) next week, putting a sharp focus on the ongoing tug-of-war within the GOP.
It’ll be the first time since Haley launched her presidential bid last week that the two declared major Republican 2024 contenders will pitch their candidacies at the same event. And while few Republicans expect Trump and Haley to go after each other directly, they say that it could offer one of the clearest examples yet of the simmering tensions within the party.
“There’s a lot of next-generation candidates out there, and I think that Nikki is tactfully going to try to make the case that there’s a real choice between these older guys like Trump and this younger generation of leaders that are changing the world,” one longtime Republican consultant said.
“Having them both at CPAC, you’re going to have two very different types of personalities to compare.”
For now, at least, Trump remains the favorite in the race for the GOP’s presidential nod; he towers over every one of his Republican rivals in sheer name recognition and stature, and early polls show him with a clear lead in an expectedly crowded primary field.
But he also stands as a wounded front-runner. A growing number of Republicans have begun to question his influence and political instincts after the party’s lackluster performance in the 2022 midterm elections, prompting other contenders like Haley to make the argument that the GOP — and Washington, more broadly — are in need of younger leadership.
The former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor has so far built her campaign around that very notion, and she’s expected to make that argument once again next week when she takes the stage at CPAC.
Saul Anuzis, a Republican strategist and former Michigan GOP chairman who has attended every CPAC since 1978, said that the gathering just outside of Washington, D.C., will give Haley a real chance to introduce herself to the party’s activist class and fine-tune her message to the Republican Party’s conservative base.
“For Nikki, it’s really an opportunity to introduce herself in a different vein. People know of her as a former governor, a former ambassador to the U.N., but they don’t really know her,” Anuzis said. “She’s gotta basically show why she’s credible, what her message is and how to do it without being anti-Trump and I think that’s going to be the balancing act for her.”
Haley has so far trodden carefully around Trump, only taking implied digs at her former boss. When she announced her campaign last week, she noted that Republicans had lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections and called for a change in the party’s leadership without directly mentioning its current leader, Trump.
Asked during a stop in Iowa this week why voters who had backed Trump in the past should support Haley in 2024, she argued that candidates shouldn’t “have to be 80 years old to be in D.C.” before going on to call Trump a “friend” and “the right president at the right time.”
President Donald Trump meets with outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
“I was proud to serve in his Cabinet. But as dire of a situation as this is, as much as all the media and everybody wants to talk about the past, we need to leave the status quo in the past,” she said. “We’ve got work to do. We’ve got to look forward.”
That message could put Trump on defense. An NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist national poll released on Wednesday found that more than half of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents — 54 percent — say that the party has a better chance at winning the White House in 2024 with someone other than Trump as its nominee.
For Trump, Anuzis said, CPAC is going to be about showing just how committed he is to a 2024 campaign. While the former president became the first candidate to jump into the contest, when he announced his bid in November, his campaign has been criticized by some Republicans as anemic and lacking a clear strategy.
It wasn’t until late January that he made his first campaign swing through New Hampshire and South Carolina, two early primary states. And he still hasn’t stopped in Iowa, which holds the first Republican nominating contest. It wasn’t until Monday that he rolled out his senior campaign staff in Iowa.
“For Trump, it’s a question of convincing people and showing them how serious he is or isn’t about running,” Anuzis said. “That’s something he’s going to have to address. He’s got a very selective, loose infrastructure right now. So he’s going to have to show his commitment to the race and fire up the base.”
“It’s a chance for him to get his base excited and motivated,” Anuzis added. “These are very much his type of people.”
Of course, Anuzis said, while Trump and Haley may be drawing the most attention, they’re not the only ones with 2024 prospects that will take the stage at CPAC.
The speakers list also includes former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is weighing an entrance into the race, and Vivek Ramaswamy, a wealthy entrepreneur and conservative activist who announced a bid for the Republican nomination on Tuesday. One notable absence: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s preparing for a likely presidential bid.
“I think there’s a tremendous amount of interest in these new candidates, whether it’s Nikki or Vivek or Ron DeSantis,” Anuzis said.