Donald Trump sent more than 2,000 conservative activists into a frenzy of approval when he told them that, unlike Ron Paul, he could win the Republican presidential nomination next year.
During a speech in which he laid out the things he would do as president, some in the audience repeatedly yelled Mr. Paul’s name. “By the way,” he responded, “I like Ron Paul, I think he is a good guy, but honestly, he just has zero chance of getting elected.”
That remark drew catcalls from a sizable contingent of the Texas congressman’s supporters among the ballroom’s capacity crowd of 2,400 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Northwest Washington.
Mr. Trump attracted so many activists that hundreds more were directed to a spill-over ballroom with televisions for viewing the speech taking place in the main ballroom.
“And I can tell you this, if I run and if I win, this country will be respected again,” said Mr. Trump, a real-estate and hotel magnate with a personal fortune of more than $2 billion. The speech was his first appearance before the Conservative Political Action Conference, now in its 38th year.
“This was the most important event at CPAC; Trump came out of the closet in the sense of revealing he is a conservative,” former Virginia GOP Chairman Jeffrey Frederick said after the surprise appearance Mr. Trump had not been on the CPAC schedule and negotiations between CPAC officials and Trump representatives ran well into Wednesday night.
Mr. Trump said the world has lost respect for America and takes advantage on economic and trade fronts. Choosing words not normally uttered by politicians, he said he would restore that respect..
“If I decided to run, I will not be raising taxes, we’ll be taking back hundreds of billions of dollars from other countries that are screwing us, we’ll be creating vast numbers of productive jobs, and we’ll rebuild our country so that we can be proud,” Mr. Trump said.
“Our country will be great again,” he said.
The audence loved it.
“It was refreshing to hear someone who is not a career political candidate say what he wanted, whether the audience wanted to hear it or not,” said conservative fundraiser Richard Norman.
Mr. Trump, known by more people globally than any American political figure other than President Obama, triggered at least as much enthusiasm from the audience as the other possible GOP presidential nomination candidates who spoke earlier, including CPAC’s perennial favorite, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and social conservative star Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania.
A Paul organizer said CPAC drew about 1,100 — 700 of them college students — supporters of Mr. Paul, a U.S. House member from Texas whose Internet fund-raising efforts during a failed bid for the 2008 GOP nomination left his competitors in the dust.
The other surprise was the booing former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Vice President Dick Cheney got from some activists in the same audience immediately after Mr. Trump’s speech. CPAC volunteers quietly removed one of the loudest objectors.
CPAC organizers say this year’s conference set a record, with more than 11,000 activists attending from around the country, many of them college students.
Mr. Trump said that, if he were president, he would warn OPEC to lower oil prices — or else. During his speech, he managed to press most of the buttons required for a candidate to satisfy the economic, national defense and social conservative strains in the GOP electoral coalition.
Mr. Trump’s appearance was the highlight of a day that featured several potential presidential contenders, including Rep. Michele Bachmann.
“This is about making Barack Obama a one-term president,” the tea party favorite said in her keynote speech opening the conference. “We’re all about winning in 2012.”
The Minnesota Republican didn’t say whether she planned to enter the race.
Mr. Gingrich, who hasn’t officially declared his candidacy, used his speech to criticize Mr. Obama’s policies as a “war on American energy” and propose replacing the Environmental Protection Agency with an Environmental Solutions Agency that he said would reward innovation, could help create jobs and increase national security.
Mr. Santorum, who lost in 2006 but is popular among anti-abortion activists and might run for president, claimed that Democrats were too eager to criticize their own country.
“Some see America as less than perfect or downright imperfect. … Well, I disagree with that,” Mr. Santorum said.
All three earned polite applause and standing ovations.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.