Former President Donald Trump will take the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday afternoon in a position few would have imagined prior to November of 2020: Voted out of the White House, impeached (and acquitted) a second time, accused of fomenting a riot at the U.S. Capitol — yet still the major voice in the GOP, and perhaps the frontrunner for the party's presidential nomination in 2024.
Trump's own meteoric rise to the White House, which he accomplished in part by defeating the well-oiled Clinton political machine, was perhaps eclipsed only by his chaotic fall from power, which concluded amid violence at the Capitol and an unprecedented impeachment trial that took place after he had already left office.
Still, after roughly a month of near-total silence from the former president — an uncharacteristic lull aided in part by his lifetime bans from multiple social media platforms — Trump nevertheless seems likely to remain a dominant force in the Republican Party he has so effectively reshaped in his own image.
For one thing, repeated polls since the 2020 election have shown consistent majorities of GOP voters stating their preference for the former president should he decide to run again for the party's presidential nod in 2024.
Whether that support will translate into Republican victories in the 2022 midterms and through 2024 will depend largely on how Trump and GOP leadership interact with each other over the next few years. The raucous, irreverent MAGA movement of which Trump is the leader has never meshed well with the relatively staid politics of the Grand Old Party.
Trump's immense popularity among the GOP base during his presidency impelled many veteran establishment Republicans to grudgingly go along with him, if only in order to survive politically. With much of the media claiming Trump "incited" an uprising against the government on Jan. 6 — even as the riot appears to have been pre-planned — many of those same Republicans may be hoping to be able to extricate themselves from Trump now while appealing to GOP moderates who have accepted that media narrative.
A Republican break from Trump — or vice versa — could prove politically fatal to both, with Trump potentially taking his voting base to a doomed third-party option, the GOP foundering in national elections, and a mostly unified Democratic voting bloc claiming historic victories at the federal and state levels.
Trump's highly anticipated CPAC appearance, then, could be the beginning of his second chapter as a GOP standard-bearer — or it could be the beginning of the end, depending upon a complex set of political factors and decisions that play out over the next several years.
The former president is scheduled to speak at 3:40 p.m. EST.