The Republican Party’s most prominent conservatives spent several days in Florida focusing on issues that will help them retake Congress this fall and possibly the White House.

Often overlooked? Trump, the former President and his main grievances.

For the first day of this year’s four-day event, lies about election fraud were an afterthought. Some prominent speakers disassociated themselves from Trump’s applauding rhetoric towards Russian President Vladimir Putin who invaded Ukraine just before the gathering. Many speakers didn’t mention Trump by name.

Instead, the most likely Republican Party presidential nominees in 2024 rallied for more parental control in schools and railed against systemic racism. They also rejected mandates related to pandemics.

When Trump delivers his keynote address Saturday night, the united message of more than half-dozen top elected officials will be put to the test. Republicans are optimistic that they have found a forward-looking strategy for expanding the GOP’s appeal, winning back women and independents who left the party under Trump’s presidency.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio said Friday that there are “people who may not have voted in the same way as you did in a presidential election and they’re really mad,” he told conservative activists. “And that’s because I believe that despite all the negative things we’ve heard the pendulum swings.”

Democrats should be worried if Republicans are able to stay focused.

The party is holding on to slim majorities in both the House and Senate. Voter sentiment has been swinging in a worrying direction since President Joe Biden was elected. A AP-NORC poll was conducted February 18-21 and found that 70% of Americans believed the country was heading in the wrong direction. Only 44% of respondents said the exact same thing in April 2021.

As public opinion shifts, so the GOP is using the same strategy as Virginia’s Republican Governor. Glenn Youngkin won in a state Trump lost last year by 10 points using the same strategy that he used last fall. Youngkin avoided Trump’s biggest grievances, which included the false belief that 2020 was marred by voter fraud.

The same happened in Florida this week.

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley tried to stop the certification of Biden’s electoral victory following the Jan. 6 Capitol Attack. He evaded a question about whether or not he would challenge Trump for a potential matchup in 2024.

Hawley stated that he had said that he didn’t intend to run for the presidency. His speech focused on Biden’s foreign policy challenges.

Hawley declined to comment on whether Trump should run in 2024. “I never give him any advice, even regarding this.”

The senator distanced himself from Trump and the Republicans who had softly praised Putin. It’s a mistake. Putin is our enemy. “Let’s be very clear,” Hawley stated.

Trump said this week to his Florida supporters that Putin was “pretty clever” in seizing Ukraine.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also refused to rule out Trump’s 2024 bid for the presidency. However, he did not mention Trump in his 20-minute speech. Instead, he lashed out at what he called Fauci-ism, referring to Anthony Fauci, a top government health official’s cautious approach towards the pandemic.

DeSantis criticized the Democratic president harshly after he had praised his anti-mask, anti-vaccine policies in his capacity as governor. Biden was a “hater” of Florida, he said.

DeSantis stated that “he’s had the worse first year of any President since the 1800s.”

Ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke out about his work with the Trump administration. However, he didn’t repeat his flattering remarks about Putin earlier in the week when he called him “very capable” but said that he has “enormous regard for him.”

Pompeo reminded the audience of his 2024 ambitions and cited a recent trip in Iowa as an example. He said that those who are focused on systemic racism rather than foreign enemies pose the greatest threat to America’s future.

Pompeo stated, “There is no greater threat to the United States than the one that emanates within our republic, emanates within our school system, and if we don’t teach our children, then the next generation that we aren’t a racist nation, there is no danger.”

Although Trump was not well-received by the majority of top Republicans, there were some exceptions. Many lower-profile speakers also praised Trump, reiterated his lies about the 2020 election being stolen, and downplayed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

North Dakota Governor Kristi Noem was considered as a possible running mate for Trump in 2024. She spoke about the 2016 election and the allegations that Democrats in power “spied on” the Trump campaign. She quickly shifted to the future.

“We have some amazing fighters, such as President Donald Trump. He’s not the only one. Noem stated that the American people are on our side and praised her efforts as governor to stop pandemic-related restrictions.

Even Nigel Farage, an ex-british politician and one Trump’s most trusted allies, encouraged conference attendees to forget Trump’s 2020 election loss obsession.

He asked the crowd, “Is it logical for the Republican Party that they continue talking about the stolen elections?” Some shouted, “Yes!” This negative anger must be transformed into a positive.

On Sunday, conference organizers will release results from their annual straw poll on the presidential race. Trump has won this poll in recent years. Matt Schlapp, the American Conservative Union chair, said that other potential presidential candidates are also popular.

DeSantis was especially popular with the large crowd. They applauded nearly every time his name or picture was mentioned in the hotel’s ballroom.

Schlapp stated in an interview that Trump “looms large.” “No. 1. Does he run again? It’s clear that many want him to. There are many opinions.

A second group of ambitious Republicans, more aggressive Trump critics were expelled from the conference. Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Rep., were also present. Chris Christie was among them.

Christie spoke out about the snub on Wednesday’s call with reporters regarding redistricting. He is the co-chair of the GOP group that directs party efforts. He also noted that he chairs fundraising for Republican governors.

Christie stated that CPAC is a great group of people but that it’s only one group in our party when he was asked about his absence. “There are many forums that I can work with in the party. Those are the efforts that will determine how we do this election fall, not some conference where there’s just some talking in February.