- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2019

They’re convinced President Trump will get another four years in the White House, but conservatives also are beginning to plan for the future and see a surprisingly chaotic bench.

Activists at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference had little consensus about the movement’s future leaders, with a variety of names including media personality Ben Shapiro and Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas popping up in conversations.

“I think people saw Marco Rubio that way in 2010 and see Dan Crenshaw that way in 2018,” said Brett Barbin, 21, a student at the University of Chicago. “People are always looking for new and exciting political figures Dan Crenshaw definitely brings a lot to the table.”

Other activists said Mr. Trump has a ready-made successor in Vice President Mike Pence.

“I think obviously being on Trump’s team, being the VP, the connections that Pence has especially with the folks in Indiana, his very conservative values, his respect for women, and his respect for all the cultural issues that conservatives are interested in — that establishes a personal connection between him and his voters,” said Caleb Wright, 17, from North Carolina.

Mr. Pence has built a rapport with conservatives over many years as a former congressman and Indiana governor on issues including government spending and religious freedom.

Robert Walters, 77, of California, likened Mr. Pence to a version of Mr. Trump who’s a little less rough around the edges.

“He’s much more refined and he’s very clear on his comments and he’s mimicking in fine language what Trump says in a little more harsh” sense, Mr. Walters said. “So he’d make a good second tier in the future.”

Others didn’t see it.

Suzy Rucker said Mr. Pence — who once referred to himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf” in his past life as a talk radio host — is fantastic on the issues but lacks charisma.

“I just don’t know that he has the energy to take the base with him after something like Trump,” said Ms. Rucker, a 33-year-old graphic designer from Chicago. “That being said, maybe people will want something a little more subdued.”

She named Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, as two conservative leaders she’s fond of.

Other attendees also named Mr. Cruz, the runner-up to Mr. Trump for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination who won a tough re-election fight last year, as someone whose stock among conservatives has remained sky-high since he was first elected to the Senate in 2012.

“I’d hate to name just one person over another — people like [Utah Sen.] Mike Lee and Ted Cruz who have really been consistent conservatives — they stuck to the principles I would love to see conservatives rally behind guys like that who are principled,” said Jacob Kersey, 16, from Georgia.

Jacob said he’d like to see the conservative movement get back to focusing on actual principles “and not just supporting one guy.”

“It seems like we’re obsessed over President Trump and [we] can’t really stick with principles anymore,” he said. “Things we used to say we supported we don’t support anymore because the president’s against them or something like that.”

That may be tough.

The Washington Times/CPAC straw poll surveyed attendees on whom they trust to build the Republican Party of the future. Mr. Trump was the choice or 66 percent, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was the pick for 9 percent, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won backing of 6 percent.

A full 18 percent rejected all of those choices.

Mr. Walters said even though Mr. McCarthy is from California, Republicans there are lukewarm on him.

“They like him; they think he’s ineffectual,” he said. “He’s too laid back. He suffers from what Republicans tend to suffer from, and it’s couch potato time and wishful thinking he’s what you call a traditional Republican mentality. I’m a street fighter. Traditional isn’t going to win anymore.”

Pat Spann, a retired federal employee from Arlington, Virginia, said it can be difficult for potential conservative leaders in prominent public positions to keep up momentum long-term given the media’s propensity to seize on gaffes and try to knock them down.

“McCarthy’s like a nonentity, and McConnell — God knows what motivates him,” he said. “The only people you hear about are politicians — governors or senators — you know, Cruz and [former Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker. Unfortunately, a lot of them — they sort of step in it. What’s his name, Perry, couldn’t name the three agencies he wanted to cut media jumps on every little thing.”

That was a reference to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who during his 2012 presidential run forgot that he had called for eliminating the department he now leads.

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