- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2020

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, helped kick off Thursday’s proceedings at the 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference by saying that CPAC represents the starting gun for this year’s presidential campaign.

“I believe that this year’s CPAC … is really the start of the presidential campaign,” Mr. Schlapp said.

“We’ll know Saturday who won the South Carolina primary,” he said. “We’ll know if the person who is saying they’re OK with being called a socialist wins the South Carolina primary. Does he do well? So I think that brings a heat to the moment.”

Thousands of conservative activists are flocking to the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in suburban Maryland for this year’s gathering, which is hosted annually by the ACU.

The central theme of CPAC this year is “America versus socialism” amid the rise of Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who is leading the delegate chase in the 2020 Democratic presidential race.

Mr. Schlapp also said control of the U.S. House of Representatives is very much in play.

CPAC has now come full circle to embrace President Trump, but attendees had frequently viewed the real estate mogul with a degree of skepticism before his hostile takeover of the Republican Party in 2016.

During his appearance alongside Mr. Schlapp, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade recalled Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s appearance at the 2016 Republican National Convention, when Mr. Cruz declined to endorse Mr. Trump and said attendees should vote their conscience.

That prompted a deafening chorus of boos from the crowd in Cleveland.

“That was one of the most electric moments that I can remember,” Mr. Kilmeade said.

“Electric is a word for it,” Mr. Schlapp said.

Mr. Cruz, who is scheduled to appear at CPAC on Thursday, is now one of Mr. Trump’s top allies in Congress.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who appeared onstage alongside Mr. Schlapp and Mr. Kilmeade, had helped lead a floor fight over the rules at the 2016 convention along with Ken Cuccinelli, who is now the acting deputy homeland security secretary.

Mr. Lee said Mr. Trump is clearly a conservative based on his governing record.

“I was late to the Trump train. I was about as late as one can be to the Trump train,” Mr. Lee acknowledged.

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