The Trump vs. DeSantis proxy battle shapes up with dueling CPAC vs. Club for Growth events


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Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy are the only presidential candidates bridging the two gatherings, though the lesser-known Ramaswamy is not yet registering on public polling of the potential 2024 field.

Despite being a nearby resident in Palm Beach, Trump was not invited to the Club’s retreat this week at The Breakers luxury resort. The conservative group has been open in its desire to move beyond Trump, who has responded with harsh criticism for the organization.

But other potential 2024 candidates are attending Club for Growth’s retreat are former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, POLITICO has confirmed. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who are not signaling interest in a presidential run next year, are also set to speak to donors.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will speak at CPAC, a conference that over the past five years has increasingly aligned itself with Trump and Trumpism. Pompeo and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin were invited to attend the Club for Growth retreat, but a person familiar with their schedules said they had scheduling conflicts.

As CPAC has remained closely aligned with Trump — the conservative outfit has celebrated Trump’s success in its straw polls while having him return to events throughout the year — the Club for Growth has largely severed ties with the former president.

And while the Club has opened its donor retreat to a slate of prospective candidates not named Trump, the anti-tax organization appears to be putting much of its weight behind DeSantis. The day before Trump announced his presidential campaign in November, the Club for Growth released polling showing the Florida governor leading over Trump by double-digits in early nominating states.

The Club and its president, David McIntosh, have endured a tumultuous relationship with the former president, first opposing him in 2016 before embracing Trump as an ally in the years to follow. McIntosh influenced some of Trump’s high-profile endorsements in the 2022 midterms, though the two men clashed over contentious Senate primaries in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Alabama.

Trump earlier this month referred to the organization as “The Club For NO Growth” and suggested he was fine without their support, posting on his Truth Social website that the group was “an assemblage of political misfits, globalists, and losers.”

“They said I couldn’t win, I did, and won even bigger in 2020, with millions of more votes than ‘16,” Trump continued, then claiming, without evidence, that the “Election was Rigged & Stolen.”

Club for Growth donated last year to DeSantis’ reelection bid, as well as to a super PAC supporting Tim Scott, another potential Trump rival in a 2024 Republican presidential primary.

Haley has also found herself in a complicated relationship with Trump, who appointed her as U.N. ambassador after initially criticizing Trump’s 2016 candidacy. Since then, Haley has cycled through criticism and praise for Trump. She previously said she would not run if Trump sought reelection, though ultimately changed course and has called for a new, younger generation of conservative leadership without directly attacking Trump’s policies.

By making an appearance at both events, Haley and Ramaswamy are attempting to make in-roads with both the pro- and anti-Trump conservative movements as they seek to bolster their name recognition and support ahead of a potentially crowded field in the coming months.

Nachama Soloveichik, an adviser to Haley, said the former South Carolina’s choice to attend both events shows she’s “decisive” and “bringing her message all across the country.” “When others sit on the sidelines, Nikki Haley puts in the work, in Iowa, in New Hampshire, at conservative gatherings,” Soloveichik said in a statement.

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