Former President Donald Trump prepares to speak during the Conservative Political Action Conference held at the Hilton Anatole on July 11, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. CPAC began in 1974, and is a conference that brings together and hosts conservative organizations, activists, and world leaders in discussing current events and future political agendas.
Former President Donald Trump prepares to speak during the Conservative Political Action Conference held at the Hilton Anatole on July 11, 2021 in Dallas, Texas.Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images
  • Trump is speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday evening.
  • Insider spoke to CPAC attendees who want the ex-president to address Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
  • They also want Trump to speak about economic issues, including inflation.

ORLANDO, Florida — Pro-Trump conservatives see a major opening for former President Donald Trump to weigh in on the crisis unfolding in Ukraine as he prepares to take the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday evening.  

Trump's public appearances at fundraisers or rallies since he left office have tended to focus on his grievances over the 2020 election. Even his comments about Ukraine so far have centered on how the war wouldn't be happening if it were not for the "rigged" election

But Republicans here in sunny central Florida are most eager to hear Trump contrast himself with his successor, President Joe Biden, whom they view as "weak" on foreign policy. 

"What you'll hear from him is a sense of urgency," Rep. Ralph Norman, a Republican of South Carolina, told Insider. "He is hearing the same thing I'm hearing. People are scared. People are saying, 'If this happens in Ukraine it can happen here.'" 

Trump already weighed in on Russia's invasion during a radio interview this week and in a statement issued Thursday evening, saying that Russia never would have invaded Ukraine if he were still president. 

His vocalness on foreign policy is unusual for a former president. Presidential predecessors have mostly followed an unwritten rule of staying quiet or being supportive when a sitting president is facing a foreign policy crisis. 

But here at CPAC, politicians are eager for Trump to discuss the crisis openly. Part of the reason is that many attendees are Trump supporters who hope the former president will take another shot at the White House in 2024.  

"I hope to hear a strong stance on what's going on in Russia and Ukraine," Garrett Barton, a family doctor in South Carolina who is running for the US House, told Insider about Trump's forthcoming speech. "Obviously weak leadership is a result and you see what happens when weak leadership takes control."  

"Our liberty, democracy, and freedom are really at stake," said Delaware congressional candidate Lee Murphy, pointing to the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. "The world sees us as in a very vulnerable position." 

"If Trump was in the White House we wouldn't even be talking about this," Murphy added.

John Gibbs, a Trump-endorsed candidate running for Congress in Michigan who also worked under Ben Carson when he was the Trump administration's secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said he hoped Trump's speech would provide him a forum to talk about how "we need new leadership, both in Congress as well as in '24." 

"I hope he focuses on how we had a record of success in our administration but in the current administration it has just been an absolute disaster on every front," said Gibbs, whom Trump had nominated back in 2020 to work in the Office of Personnel Management. The appointment was stymied in the Senate amid an uproar over tweets he'd posted floating a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign chairman John Podesta taking part in a Satanic ritual. 

CPAC also wants to hear about US economic problems

Supply chain problems, high gas prices, record inflation, crime, and opposing teachings about race in schools that they're dubbing "critical race theory," were among the other issues that numerous politicians mentioned they wanted to hear Trump talk about on Saturday. 

"He should just give the path forward on all this," said Dave Brat, the dean of the School of Business at Liberty University, a Christian college. Brat used to represent Virginia in the US House and came to prominence after he ran as an anti-establishment candidate in 2014, ousting then-GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary. 

Republican Rep. Billy Long of Missouri, who is running for the Senate, said he wants Trump to focus on rallying the faithful. 

"I just want him to let people know how unified we need to stay," Long told Insider, adding that the best thing Trump can do is talk about the future so the party can win back the House, Senate, and White House. 

Trump spoke with politicians about some of the issues the US is facing during a forum this week at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, said George Santos, who is running for the US House in New York.

"The takeaway message was that the message to save our country is to make America great again — again," he said.

Gibbs, who was also at Mar-a-Lago for the forum, said that Trump discussed pocketbook issues including high gas and grocery prices.

"That's bipartisan, that hurts everybody, period," Gibbs said. 

CPAC politicians who spoke to Insider also didn't see a problem with Trump rehashing the 2020 presidential election. Trump has frequently said the election was "stolen" from him even though no evidence has shown instances of massive voter fraud. 

"He just needs to come out and continue to rally the choir," said Leslie French, a first-time GOP candidate running to unseat Trump impeachment supporter Republican Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler of Washington. "You know, we'll support him. But he's got to keep that energy going."

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