Ted Cruz and Scott Walker are both slated to speak at next week’s Republican National Convention, at which Donald Trump will be coronated as the party’s 2016 presidential nominee.
But in the minds of many anti-Trump conservatives, the 2020 campaign has already begun — and for that reason both Cruz and Walker are coming to Cleveland early.
The Texas senator and Wisconsin governor, who began this presidential cycle as opponents in the GOP primary, will be the headline speakers this week at a private gathering of the Council for National Policy, a secretive umbrella organization for the conservative movement that brings together hundreds of influential activist leaders.
The CNP meeting will be held in downtown Cleveland beginning today and concluding Friday evening, with many of its members scheduled to stay in the city for next week’s convention. Walker will address the group during a Thursday morning brunch, according to a schedule obtained by NRO, while Cruz will speak Friday morning as part of the general session.
Even as many activists look ahead to 2020, the current campaign — and this year’s convention — will be front and center at the CNP summit. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, will address the group Thursday afternoon in a speech entitled, “Welcome to Cleveland.” And retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has been vetted by Trump’s campaign for the vice presidency, will participate in a panel discussion on terrorism and military readiness Friday afternoon before holding a book signing for CNP members.
While some prominent members (including president Tony Perkins) have signaled personal support for Trump because of the “binary” nature of the contest against Hillary Clinton, their grassroots organizations were overwhelmingly opposed to his candidacy during the primary campaign and have not yet offered their organizational support for the general election. It is widely understood, according to CNP organizers, that regardless of the result in November their search for a conservative nominee in 2020 is already underway.
Cruz, at this impossibly early stage, is already seeking to head off future challengers who could threaten to poach from his base. Making no secret of his intention to run again in 2020, the Texas senator recently s to burnish his brand and grow his support.
He won the endorsement of CNP’s core leadership in the run-up to this year’s primary, and delivered a landmark speech to the group last spring urging the conservative movement to unite behind an anti-establishment challenger, tellling them: “The men and women in this room, if you decide, have it in your capacity to unify the conservative movement. The numbers are such that if conservatives are united, it’s game over.”
Cruz ultimately received much of the support he was seeking. But instead of the head-to-head finale against Jeb Bush that he had envisioned, Cruz found himself facing off against Trump, whose outsider appeal eclipsed even his own.