While the media focused almost exclusively on Donald Trump's speech at CPAC 2021, there were strong pitches from other potential Republican Party leaders including Kristi Noem, Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis, Tom Cotton and Rick Scott. Images: Getty/Zuma/AP/Reuters Composite: Mark Kelly
TED CRUZ: We stand together and defend liberty, defend the Constitution, defend the Bill of Rights of every American.
TOM COTTON: There is no more pernicious threat to America than the rejection of our founding principles and our heritage and our tradition.
RON DESANTIS: Florida got it right, and the lockdown states got it wrong.
- While the mainstream media focused almost exclusively on Donald Trump's speech at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference--
DONALD TRUMP: In just one short month, we have gone from America first to America last.
- --other potential future Republican Party standard-bearers also made appearances.
KRISTI NOEM: For those of you who don't know, South Dakota is the only state in America that never ordered a single business or church to close.
- Kristi Noem received multiple standing ovations when detailing her state's handling of the coronavirus.
KRISTI NOEM: We never instituted a shelter-in-place order. We never mandated that people wear masks.
We never even defined what an essential business is because I don't believe that governors have the authority to tell you that your business isn't essential.
- The South Dakota governor also called out the media's preferred COVID expert.
KRISTI NOEM: Now Dr. Fauci, he told me that on my worst day, I'd have 10,000 patients in the hospital. On our worst day, we had a little over 600.
I don't know if you agree with me, but Dr. Fauci is wrong a lot.
- To be sure, the management of lockdowns in America's mainly liberal cities was a regular target, not least by Florida's governor.
RON DESANTIS: When you look around at other parts of our country, and in far too many places, we see schools closed, businesses shuttered, and lives destroyed.
- In normal circumstances, CPAC is held near Washington. But this year, it was moved to the Sunshine State because of the pandemic.
RON DESANTIS: Florida has lower per capita COVID mortality than the national average and lower than 27 other states. Our unemployment rate is lower than the national average, even though tourism isn't fully back, and our budget is in great shape. We have not touched one red cent from our rainy day fund throughout this whole time.
- Other leading voices this year included Rick Scott, who complimented the former president for much of his policy.
RICK SCOTT: President Trump did something that has never been done in our lifetime. He stood up to all of establishment Washington and said no.
- But Scott also suggested that the GOP is bigger than just one man--
RICK SCOTT: Of course, President Trump has flaws. I have flaws. We all have flaws.
- --and hit the opposition hard in a speech that lived up to the title of this year's conference, America Uncanceled.
RICK SCOTT: They want to take away your freedom of speech. They want to take away your religious liberty. They want to take away your right to bear arms. They want to get you fired from your job. They want to get your bank to drop you. They want to make you unemployable in the future. And you know what? They've got a lot of friends in corporate America that are absolutely willing to help them.
- Other speakers included Tom Cotton, who recalled the summer riots that Democrats referred to as peaceful protests, and his message in an op-ed for "The New York Times."
TOM COTTON: If the police cannot-- or especially, if they are not allowed-- to restore order, then it is time to send in the troops.
- And he went on to detail the outcry that followed.
TOM COTTON: Total meltdown with the little social justice warriors at "The New York Times," all these children that have been marinated in the language of the campus seminar room. They said things like, your words put my life at risk, as if typing on their phones sitting on their futons was as dangerous as being a cop trying to stop rioters in the streets, or your words are violence. No, I'm sorry, kiddo. Words are words. Violence is what your friends are doing out on the streets of America.
- While Mr. Trump will still play a major role in the Republican Party, the GOP will need to focus on the future to return to power in Washington.
TED CRUZ: And the Republican Party is not the party just of the country clubs. The Republican Party is the party of steel workers and construction workers and pipeline workers and taxi cab drivers and cops and firefighters and waiters and waitresses and the men and women with calluses on their hands who are working for this country. That is our party, and these deplorables that are here to stay.