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Trump will speak at the CPAC today, cementing his influence on the Republican Party

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's now two years since Russia marched on Ukraine. How that's testing American resolve in a moment. But first, today, Donald Trump speaks at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference. CPAC has changed quite a bit since Trump rode down the escalator to announce his presidential campaign. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez joins us. Franco, thanks so much for being with us.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: I can remember when CPAC was a showcase for competing ideas within the conservative movement. What do we see now?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, it's really kind of a sea change, Scott. I mean, it really reflects how Trump has changed the party as well. I mean, last year, several of his rivals were booed. And this year, his only remaining rival, that's former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, is not even going to be there. I spoke with Demetrios Julius. It's his first CPAC. He's a doctor from Richmond, Va., and he says he feels a change. I mean, he compared it to the '60s and even started quoting Beatles lyrics.

DEMETRIOS JULIUS: It is exciting 'cause I think there's a change happening, just like the '60s was exciting. You say you want a revolution. You know we all want to change the world.

ORDOÑEZ: And you know, Scott, that's the kind of energy that you feel from a lot of people here. I mean, it's really a celebration of Trump. And just to give you a little bit more perspective, I mean, this is a huge convention space just outside of Washington, D.C. And downstairs, they're selling T-shirts, hats. One vendor is selling shiny purses with Trump's name on it. And they even fit a big tour bus inside the building, comfortably, where attendees can write Trump's personal messages on it.

SIMON: Any indication of what Trump's message is going to be? And by the way, why is this in CPAC when the South Carolina Republican primary's today?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, it's a great point. And because of that primary, you can expect that Trump's going to mention South Carolina and talk directly to those South Carolina voters. So he's likely going to bash Nikki Haley and encourage supporters to go out and vote. I did speak to Karoline Leavitt, who's Trump's campaign press secretary. And I asked her, why is it so important to be in Washington, D.C. right now?

KAROLINE LEAVITT: To rally the base, rally the troops, get the president's message in the ears of the people that are on the ground in their communities, getting votes out in their respective states and counties, not just now in this primary, but in the November general election as well.

ORDOÑEZ: And they're very confident about the South Carolina result. And he wants to make sure - Trump that is - wants to make sure that they do not miss an opportunity to fire up the base, which is what CPAC really is. And that's why you'll probably also hear a lot of attacks against President Biden, which are really a cornerstone of every Trump speech right now.

SIMON: Of course, there's also a CPAC straw poll. It's still early in the primary process, obviously. Yet it sounds like there's no confusion about the straw poll results. Donald Trump will be on top.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. It's kind of one of those CPAC traditions that's also kind of changed over the years. But I would argue that this year's straw poll is going to be interesting, just for different reasons. I mean, everyone here expects Trump will win the nomination. So the attention is on who's going to be Trump's pick for vice president. And this year, in addition to picking a Republican nominee, attendees are also going to be asked in the poll who should be Trump's running mate. And several potential running mates may have big - or do have big speaking slots, including Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, Senator J.D. Vance and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. I mean, this is a big stage, perhaps the biggest, for the Trump faithful. And you can bet Trump's going to be watching to see how they perform and how their message resonates with the most faithful Trump voters.

SIMON: NPR's Frank Ordoñez. Thanks very much for being with us.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.

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