Two Trump Cabinet members – both positioning themselves for presidential runs – told audience members at a conservative conference that Republicans can do better than the former president.
An unofficial commandment at the Conservative Political Action Conference – thou shalt not dis Donald Trump – was broken Friday by two Republicans who may end up facing off against each other and the former president in the 2024 Republican primary.
Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state and a potential 2024 contender, directly scolded Trump for the $8 trillion added to the national debt during his administration. Pompeo also made more oblique comments that could easily be seen as a swipe against his former boss.
Announced 2024 candidate Nikki Haley, who served as Trump’s ambassador to the U.N., reminded the crowd at the Trump-loving event that she thought politicians over 75 should be required to take a mental competency test. That very clearly applies to President Joe Biden, whom she targeted in her speech (first lady Jill Biden called the idea “ridiculous” in a CNN interview Friday).
But it also would demand that the 76-year-old former president prove his mental acuity as well.
“If you’re tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation,” the 51-year-old Haley said in a twist of Trump’s 2016 campaign promise that Americans would get “tired of winning” under his stewardship. “And if you want to win, not just as a party, but as a country, then stand with me.”
Both former Trump Cabinet members took conservatives to task for a lackluster performance in 2022 and suggested also that Trump indeed lost, despite the repeated insistence by many at CPAC that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and the 2022 contests were fraught with fraud.
“I have a particular message for you, my fellow conservatives,” Haley told a partly filled ballroom at the CPAC event. “We’ve lost the popular vote in the last seven out of eight presidential elections.
Our cause is right, but when you fail to win the confidence of a majority of Americans … that ends now,” she added.
Pompeo went further.
“We lost three elections in a row, and the popular vote of seven of the last eight,” Pompeo said, categorically acknowledging that Trump lost in 2020 and that Republicans failed to oust vulnerable Democrats in 2022.
“I think last year … was a wake-up call for all of us, for conservatives,” Pompeo said. “I’m happy we won the House, but we barely captured it,” he said, referring to the fragile majority Republicans now hold in the chamber. And the GOP, he noted, did not take back the Senate.
“We’ve lost confidence that we are right,” he said, “It’s not just a crisis of confidence, it’s a crisis of character as well.”
The former chief diplomat then made veiled remarks about what kind of leader conservatives need. And while he didn’t mention Trump by name in those remarks, the former president seemed to be at least among the indirect targets.
Pompeo talked about the “hypocrisy” among some in the party who say, “We’re electing a president, not a Sunday school teacher. But having taught Sunday School, maybe we can get both,” Pompeo said.
He added, “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.”
The relatively sparse crowd didn’t react much to either speaker’s comments about the elections or Trump. But the statements were somewhat bold, considering that CPAC is dominated by Trump supporters.
The former president’s name and image are everywhere at the CPAC meeting, and people were yelling “Trump! Trump! Trump!” in the “media row” hallway. Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and daughter-in-law Lara Trump spoke Friday at CPAC.
But while the CPAC meeting was once an essential stop for those mulling a presidential run, high-profile would-be candidates have stayed away this year. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is peddling his book, and Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, said he declined an invitation to speak at CPAC.
Trump is set to speak at CPAC on Saturday afternoon to close the three-day event.