CPAC 2021: Trump Maintains Grip on Party Activists, Intensifying GOP Divisions

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) wrapped up this weekend with a decisive victory for former President Donald Trump in the straw poll. Trump overwhelmingly won the poll, garnering 62 percent of the vote compared to 20 percent for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.[0] Trump’s 40-point margin is similar to the straw polls conducted at prior CPAC events, illustrating the former president’s enduring grip on the party’s activist class.[1]

The conference was also shadowed by the controversy surrounding Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union and the face of CPAC. In January, Schlapp was accused by a male staffer for Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign of having sexually assaulted the staffer by groping his crotch during a car ride.[2] Trump supporters greeted Nikki Haley after her remarks with loud chants of “We love Trump!” and “Rino” (“Republican in name only”).[3]

In addition to Trump, the conference featured speeches from potential 2024 GOP presidential hopefuls, including former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.[4] Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also addressed the crowd, offering more traditional, hawkish Republican messages. Michigan businessman Perry Johnson, who was removed from the state’s gubernatorial ballot last year for filing fraudulent nominating signatures and who was camped out all week at the event, came in third place in the straw poll.[5]

The conference was also notable for those who skipped the event, such as widely speculated GOP presidential candidates Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, and Sen. Tim Scott.[6] This has led to questions about the relevance of CPAC and whether Republicans might be interested in forging their own path without the platform of institutions like CPAC.[7]

The event also highlighted the Republican party’s growing divisions, with many attendees displaying their unwavering support for Trump while others were more muted in their praise of the former president. This year’s CPAC was a much lower-profile affair than usual, but it’s still a significant stage on which ambitious Republicans can test their message in front of the right wing of the right wing.[8]

0. “Former President Donald Trump closes the curtain on CPAC 2023 in DC” NPR, 5 Mar. 2023,

1. “Trump ties a ribbon on the most MAGA CPAC yet” POLITICO, 5 Mar. 2023,

2. “Mike Pence declines invitation to CPAC as event's leader comes under fire” ABC News, 25 Feb. 2023,

3. “Chants of ‘Trump 2024’ greet former SC Governor Nikki Haley at conservative gathering” The State, 3 Mar. 2023,

4. “Why does CPAC seem extra weird this year?” Grid, 4 Mar. 2023,

5. “Trump overwhelmingly wins CPAC's Republican primary straw poll with DeSantis coming in a distant second” Fox News, 4 Mar. 2023,

6. “GOP stars flee CPAC” NBC News, 27 Feb. 2023,

7. “Five takeaways from this year’s CPAC” The Hill, 5 Mar. 2023,

8. “Pompeo’s personal dig at Trump” The Washington Post, 4 Mar. 2023,

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