Texas Senator Ted Cruz received a warm welcome from the crowd after being criticized in his home state for going to Cancun while Texans suffered from lost power and water after a winter storm.
And he kicked off his remarks with a joke about his controversy.
‘Orlando is awesome. It’s not as nice as Cancun, but it’s nice,’ he said to laughter and applause.
Cruz, in meandering remarks, offered several applause lines as he blasted cancel culture, dropped references to Star Wars, Star Trek and Ghostbusters; and blasted liberals.
‘This is the Rebel Alliance,’ he said of the group, referring to the heroes of the Star Wars franchise. ‘Darth Vader and the emperor – and let’s be clear, they’re not your father – are terrified of the rebels that are here. And I’m telling ya, Gina Carano stands with us!’
‘We believe in individuality – different people have different views. We are the not the Borg,’ he said, referring to the villains in Star Trek. ‘I may have committed a cardinal sin mixing Star Wars and Star Trek.’
Senator Ted Cruz kicked off his remarks to CPAC with a joke about his controversial trip to Cancun
He also charged Democrats with fearing Trump.
‘They look at Donald J Trump and they look at the millions and millions of people inspired, who went to battle fighting alongside President Trump, and they’re terrified. And they want him to go away. Let me tell you this right now, Donald J Trump ain’t going anywhere,’ he said.
He closed with: ‘In the immortal words of William Wallace: Freedom.’
The four-day conservative gathering was moved from suburban Maryland to Florida in part because of the Sunshine State’s more relaxed rules on public gatherings during the COVID pandemic.
‘That state decided to cancel us because it wasn’t safe,’ CPAC host Matt Schlapp said in his opening remarks of the decision to move the conference from Maryland.
‘And I said I’ll be damned if I’m the first chairman in 20 years not to have CPAC,’ he added to thundering applause.
Many Trump supporters regularly refuse to don face masks. His campaign rallies were notable for the packed crowds and bare faces.
And when organizers of CPAC asked attendees to mask up on Friday, in compliance with the state rules, they were booed in return.
‘No,’ the crowd yelled back. ‘Freedom.’
Most attendees didn’t wear the face coverings, arguing the government cannot make them.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who opened Friday’s session, didn’t mention the issue in his brief remarks.
Conservatives are gathered in Orlando for annual CPAC conference
Many in the crowd did not wear face masks and several booed when organizers asked them to put them on in compliance with state rules
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis opened Friday’s session – most speakers are fervent Trump supporters
‘Florida’s leading on the issues that matter to conservatives,’ DeSantis said. ‘We don’t spout hollow rhetoric. We take decisive action.’
‘Florida got it right and the lockdown states got it wrong,’ he noted.
DeSantis and a host of other conservative favorites are the warm up act for the big event: former President Donald Trump.
Trump will close out the conference on Sunday with his first public appearance since leaving the White House.
But before he speaks, attendees will hear from his son Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle.
Also on the agenda are potential 2024 presidential contenders Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton and Kristi Noem.
Up-and-coming Republican House members Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Matt Gaetz will also speak.
All of them are fervent Trump supporters.
Notably absent from the list is Mike Pence, who was a regular speaker when he was vice president. Nor is Nikki Haley attending. She questioned Trump’s efforts to overthrow the election in an interview with Politico and Trump reportedly refused to see her when she tried to come to Mar-a-Lago to make amends.
Also not on the list is Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who publicly chastised Trump for inciting the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol.
And conference organizers did not invite any of the 17 Republican members of Congress who voted to support Trump´s second impeachment. Nor did they invite any major Trump critics.
The Conservative Political Action Conference is an event organized by the American Conservative Union, whose chairman, Matt Schlapp, is close to Trump.
It’s a must-stop for conservatives looking to raise their profile among the party faithful and on the national stage. It’s rooster is filled with potential presidential candidates and those guaranteed to bring applause from the right-leaning crowd.
Donald Trump will use his speech Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference to push repeated claims that he is the true victor of the 2020 presidential election
Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle will address CPAC on Friday afternoon
Trump will use his return to the spotlight to cement his role as leader of the Republican Party and to criticize President Joe Biden’s first month in office.
‘I think the broader point will be: Here’s where the Republican Party and conservative movement and the America First movement goes from here,’ senior Trump adviser Jason Miller told the Associated Press. ‘In many ways, this will be a throwback to 2016, where the president ran against Washington. Here we´ll see the president address the fact that the only divide in the Republican Party is between the elites and the conservative grassroots in the party.’
Schlapp said he expected Trump to outline an active role in Republican Party politics but couldn’t say if the former president would definitively throw his hat in the ring for another White House run.
‘I’m not sure what he’s going to say about 2024 but I’m pretty confident he’s going to make it clear that it’s a very viable possibility,’ Schlapp told Reuters.
‘Donald Trump is going to stay in the game and will be involved in primaries and he’s going to opine and he´s going to give speeches, and for establishment Republicans it puts shivers down their spine. They’re very concerned he’s going to continue to have an impact. My advice to them is to get used to it,’ Schlapp said.
But two people who have discussed Trump’s upcoming remarks with the former president told The Daily Beast that Trump will push his repeated – and false – claims that the presidential election was ‘stolen’ and that he’s the true victor.
Biden’s White House has downplayed Trump’s return to the public stage.
‘We haven’t even seen the former president speak at CPAC,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week. ‘Obviously, President Biden has spoken to his concerns about the rhetoric of the former President, how he was unfit for office. That’s why he ran against him and why he defeated him. But we’re not going to spend too much time here focused on or talking about President Trump.’