ORLANDO, Florida — Conservatives at a massive gathering here this week are enthusiastic about the prospects of former President Donald Trump seeking the White House again in 2024.
But they don’t envision his former running mate, Mike Pence, sharing the spotlight with him a third time.
Instead, several attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference told Insider they hoped Trump would consider other options, including Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, conservative commentator Candace Owens, and Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Kristi Noem of South Dakota.
Scott and Noem are “viable candidates,” said Alex Bruesewitz, CEO of X Strategies LLC, a communications firm advising 21 GOP candidates, adding, “I would love to see Tucker [Carlson] but I’m a realistic person.”
Bruesewitz, a CPAC panelist, doubted Trump would pick Pence if he were to run again. Pence himself is possibly mounting a challenge to run for president in 2024.
“He was a solid vice president but post-election he lost a lot of supporters,” Bruesewitz said. “If he were to decide to run for president he would be embarrassed, however he could leverage it to get a lot of media attention and write a book and make a lot of money like they all end up doing.”
Trump, who is set to take the CPAC stage Saturday evening, continues to flirt with another presidential run in 2024 although he’s made no official announcement.
Scott, in particular, gained a lot of attention nationally after he gave the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s joint address to Congress last year, and has been bringing in major donors.
“I definitely think we should have a different veep,” said George Santos, 34, a Trump supporter who is running for Congress in New York has been coming to CPAC since he was a teenager. He cited examples such as Noem, DeSantis, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Pence is not set to speak at CPAC, though DeSantis did on Thursday. Other potential 2024 hopefuls, including Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, did as well.
“A lot of names are floating around,” said Santos, who had just attended a GOP summit at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach the day before. “I do not believe it would be Pence just based on the way things ended.”
“I don’t think that would be productive for the party, for them, or for the country,” he added. “President and vice presidents should be in unison and I really don’t see that.”
Ariel Kohane, who is affiliated with several Republican groups including Jews for Trump, said Scott would be “among a few great choices to pick.”
“A lot of people are talking about Candace Owens,” said Ron Eller, a physician assistant and businessman who is running for Congress in Mississippi.
“I would like her endorsement too,” added Eller, who said he hoped to have just “30 seconds” at CPAC to tell Trump why he should endorse him.
Owens is pro-Trump, but has split with Trump over his backing for COVID-19 vaccines, which were developed in record time when he was president. In December, she said Trump was “old” and hadn’t searched for alternative information about the vaccines.
Dave Duffy, who sells GOP paraphernalia at Patriot Promotions, agreed that Trump should choose Owens to be on his ticket.
“We would love to have Candace Owens on the ticket with Trump,” he said.
Owens is 32 years old. She will turn 35 — the minimum age for serving as vice president — prior to Election Day 2024.
Sophia Fyfe, visiting from Ripon, Wisconsin, said she traveled here with fellow college Republicans to attend her first CPAC, rolling into town at 12:30 a.m. Thursday.
Agenda-wise, Fyfe said she was planning to hit it hard.
“We’re really excited to see Ron DeSantis,” she said, citing the current governor of Florida as one of the featured speakers on her extensive to-do list.
Fyfe also named DeSantis as her pick for president the next time around: “I think in 2024 I’d like to see him run.”
Her second choice?
“Candace Owens, for sure,” Fyfe said without missing a beat.
Choosing a vice presidential pick proved a little more challenging.
“Maybe Ted Cruz?” Fyfe said of the failed 2016 presidential hopeful. “He’s a good strong Republican figure that I think could be very influential.”
Lacy Peterson, a CPAC veteran visiting from Washington, DC, is also on Team DeSantis.
“He’s a good disrupter — if that makes sense,” Peterson said. She hasn’t committed to a single vice presidential candidate, yet, floating Noem and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds as viable contenders for second-in-command.
But Peterson said she wasn’t sure either were ready for the big show.
“I think Noem might throw her hat in the ring for running,” Peterson said. “But I don’t think she’ll get a nomination.”
“I’d like to see the best person — not woman, man, black, or white,” said Calvin Wimbish, who is running for Congress in Florida and seeking Trump’s endorsement. The most important quality, he said, was an “America-first attitude.”
Heidi Finch, a first-timer at CPAC who lives in Orlando, said she brought her college-aged daughter to catch up with one very vocal MAGA woman.
“She’s very excited to hear from Candace Owens,” Finch said, describing the conservative commentator and Turning Point USA alumna as “a person that we are following very closely and want to hear what she has to say.”
Finch was 100% sure of who she wants as the headliner in 2024.
“I would love to see Donald Trump run again,” she said.
The rub, Finch noted, was that “I’m not sure he has the ability to bring the country together, personality-wise.”
Balancing another Trump-led ticket with a seasoned foreign policy professional would go a long way to locking down her vote, Finch said.
“He’s a maverick. You don’t know what he’s gonna say or do,” she said of Trump’s polarizing presence on the world stage. “So you need someone a little bit reliable.”
Finch said she suspects Trump’s next vice presidential pick “is probably going to be a woman,” but she wasn’t sold on any particular candidate. Finch said “someone along the lines of Marsha Blackburn” might work, but doubts that the 69-year-old Tennessee Republican would appeal to younger voters.
“She’s established and has gravitas … but I think it needs to be a little younger,” Finch said of the VP calculus.
Tapping 35-year-old Rep. Lauren Boebert would take care of that, according to Finch.
“She’s got a little spunk,” Finch said of the freshman lawmaker from Colorado.
And that, in turn, would free up Blackburn for another key gig.
“I could see her being Secretary of State, or something like that,” Finch said.
Jennifer Friend, a CPAC veteran visiting from neighboring Gainesville, Florida, came right out with her presidential pick when asked, but fumbled around a bit while filling out the second slot.
“I’m hoping it’s President Trump and, I can’t think of his name right now, not Gov. DeSantis, ummm, Mike Pompeo,” Friend said as she worked the whole thing out.
The one thing Floridians Finch and Friend agreed on was the need to keep DeSantis close to home — for now.
“I don’t want to give him up,” Finch said. “He still has work to do here.”
Friend said what she likes best about DeSantis is that “he’s more like Trump.”
“He’s gonna be in control. Not weak, like what’s happening right now in our country,” she said in a not-so-subtle swipe at Biden.