WASHINGTON – It isn’t easy to upstage Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich before a crowd of conservatives, but Donald Trump managed to pull it off.
The developer and reality-television star made a surprise cameo Thursday at the first day of the annual gathering of the nation’s conservatives in Washington, saying he hasn’t ruled out a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
This year’s meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference has taken on added importance as an early forum for possible GOP 2012 presidential candidates. And it was clear by the end of the first day that the potent mixture of tea party rabble-rousing and anti-government libertarianism that upended the 2010 congressional elections remains as vibrant and as potentially uncontrollable as ever.
Conservatives chose Bachmann, a Minnesota lawmaker and a tea party favorite, to open the three-day conference. Her selection was a clear sign that the center of gravity among the party’s conservatives had moved in the movement’s direction. David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which sponsors CPAC, said as much early in the day.
“The story of the last two years has been an awakening,” Keene said. The focus of the conference, he said, would be “on those people in the process of changing the world. These are our new allies.”
Bachmann, the outspoken Minnesota conservative, poked fun at herself in her remarks and decried President Barack Obama for “ushering in socialism.”
But Bachmann, former House Speaker Gingrich, and others were upstaged by Trump, who made a surprise appearance and said he would decide whether to pursue a presidential bid by June.
“America is missing quality leadership,” said Trump, who has considered presidential bids in the past. “I am well acquainted with winning.”
Trump had the crowd eating out of his hand until he struck a tripwire, telling them that Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian from Texas, could not win the presidency.
“I like Ron Paul, but he has no chance of getting elected,” Trump said. Paul won the presidential straw poll at CPAC last year.
Paul’s supporters also booed Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, who showed up to accept an award.