- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2023

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An anti-Donald Trump conservative group is staging a private event that will rival the Conservative Political Action Conference happening at the same time near Washington, where the former president is expected to deliver the keynote address Saturday.

Mr. Trump was not invited by Club for Growth to its annual retreat for donors at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. The event runs from Thursday through Saturday, and the list of attendees includes more potential 2024 GOP hopefuls than the CPAC roster. In addition to prospective presidential candidates, about 100 “significant” donors plan to attend the Club for Growth event, according to a source familiar with the details. 

The event will take place practically in Mr. Trump’s backyard. The Breakers is located about 3 miles from Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. But the former president was purposely excluded from the list of potential GOP presidential candidates.

The Club for Growth, a group that advocates for low taxes and limited government, once backed Mr. Trump enthusiastically but is now looking for a new Republican candidate to support in the 2024 presidential race.

Instead, the organization invited Mr. Trump’s main 2024 Republican rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who plans to attend and skip CPAC, although his spokeswoman declined to confirm all of his upcoming events.

Mr. DeSantis has not officially entered the 2024 primary but soft-launched a presidential bid this week with a new memoir and campaign-style video touting his accomplishments as Florida’s 46th governor. He’ll headline dinners this week in Harris County, Texas, and at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California and make several stops in Florida to promote his book.

SEE ALSO: All but running: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis soft-launches a White House bid

Mr. DeSantis has become a favorite of GOP mega-donors who see him as a preferred and viable alternative to the former president. He raised a record $217 million for his 2022 reelection campaign and has close to $100 million left over which he can use in an aligned super PAC if he runs for president.

Mr. DeSantis is expected to make an announcement about a presidential bid after the state legislature wraps up at the end of May.

Club for Growth and other outside groups have in the meantime been promoting Mr. DeSantis as a conservative candidate who can beat Mr. Trump in the primary.

On the eve of Mr. Trump’s November launch of his 2024 presidential campaign, Club for Growth published polling numbers that showed Mr. DeSantis leading Mr. Trump by 11 points in Iowa and 15 points in New Hampshire. The two states will be the first to cast votes in the Republican nominating contest. The same survey found Mr.  DeSantis 26 points ahead of Mr. Trump in Florida among likely primary voters.

But Mr. Trump remains the party’s definitive 2024 front-runner, according to most polls. He often beats Mr. DeSantis by double digits in a hypothetical primary matchup and commands as much as 36% of the GOP vote. 

The former president will be at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland, on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, where he’ll headline CPAC. He also is poised to win the event’s straw poll measuring the popularity of potential and declared 2024 GOP presidential candidates. 

The event runs Wednesday through Saturday and Mr. Trump will deliver a speech on the last day of the event.

Most of the GOP candidates who hope to defeat him, however, will be wooing donors in Palm Beach.

The list of attendees at the Palm Beach event includes former Vice President Mike Pence, who has not attended a CPAC conference in years. Mr. Pence, like Mr. DeSantis, is contemplating a 2024 presidential run.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and biotech tycoon Vivek Ramaswamy, who each announced 2024 presidential bids in February, plan to attend both CPAC and Club for Growth events.

Other Republicans lurking on the sidelines of a 2024 campaign will attend the donor retreat in Palm Beach.

The list includes Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rick Scott of Florida and Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire.

Mr. Cruz and Mr. Scott will also attend CPAC.

CPAC is open to the media and those who purchase tickets. The confab features workshops and speeches by influential conservatives. 

In addition to Mr. Trump, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik of New York and Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Wesley Hunt of Texas and former Rep. Lee Zeldin will speak to the CPAC crowd.

Kari Lake, the Republican candidate defeated in her bid for Arizona governor, will deliver the keynote address at CPAC’s Ronald Reagan Dinner.

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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