CPAC, the annual conservative confab, started on Thursday in Orlando. I don’t say Orlando, Florida, because as a bred South Floridian we don’t recognize anything north of Palm Beach or ten miles inland from the Atlantic as Florida.

Be that as it may, the former president will dominate the conference. But a host of lesser elves will be on hand as well to ply their wares as his loyal acolytes or, if fate takes a hand, as his successor.

Fox reports them as follows: “Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, along with Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Ted Cruz, R-Texas and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., will all be in attendance…” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will also be there. Let’s look at the major players in the lineup.

Pompeo- Personally and professionally the cream of the top. First in his class at West Point, Congressman from Kansas, CIA, State, the guy has it all. But, low on the current radar screen. He’ll use CPAC to raise his profile.

Noem- A dream walking. Stunningly attractive, sharp, conservative, successful governor, Trump supporter. If she’s smart she plays coy and teases the conference with her limitless political future, thus making them plead for more.

DeSantis- A great record as governor of a swing state makes him someone to watch. This is also his home turf and he’ll make the most of it.

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Cotton- Solid everywhere, he’s the heir apparent if Trump is not in the picture. This combat vet and strong conservative may be the only male candidate who could unite the party.

Cruz- Coming off the Cancun screwup, Cruz needs a win here. Smart move would be to make fun of himself for the aborted vacation and thus spin the narrative his way. But Republicans are rarely that smart, their egos get in the way. He’ll be received well. But no fireworks, as it’s mostly damage control.

Hawley- Competing with Cotton for the soul of the Trump base, he will be incendiary. His take no prisoners approach will play very well at CPAC. It’ll be a good event for him. And what about absent Republicans?

Mike Pence- No longer a conservative in the eyes of loons because he wouldn’t subvert the Constitution for one man, his patriotism makes him a traitor to many at CPAC. He has more guts and integrity than the lot of them. But 2024 for him? Fougeddaboudit.

Nikki Haley- She has a shot in 2024, but a long one. She trashed Trump in a Politico interview right after January 6th and the former president has a long vindictive memory. If time somehow intercedes on her side she may have a chance. But Trump voters still have the party by the throat and that will remain the case for some time. The best she could hope for would be opposition to Trump standard bearer in 2024 and a real shot down the line. She would get clobbered in the primaries.

Mitch McConnell- Doesn’t care. He runs the Republicans in Congress and thus actually runs the real party in DC. At this point, the Trump hubbub and CPAC hinterland enthusiasms for it are all shadows and mirrors, as power is out of their grasp. For now.