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New York Times
24 Feb 2024
Chris Cameron

NextImg:Appearing at CPAC, Trump’s V.P. Contenders Speak to an Audience of One

Influential Republicans vying to be Donald J. Trump’s vice-presidential running mate appeared at a conservative conference near Washington, auditioning for the spot at Mr. Trump’s side on the campaign trail with fire and flattery.

Four people seen as contenders in the “Apprentice”-like spectacle made appearances on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. They included Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Kari Lake, a Senate candidate in Arizona who rose to conservative prominence with a full-throated embrace of Mr. Trump’s stolen election lies. The conservative and former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy was scheduled to speak later in the evening.

The contenders appeared to understand that they had an audience of one in Mr. Trump. Their approaches differed, but their speeches were similar in tone and content: underscoring their loyalty through effusive praise and scorching rhetoric for the base, while portraying the former president, who faces 91 felony charges in four separate criminal cases, as a martyr for Republicans.

Ms. Stefanik, a onetime moderate Republican whose reinvention as a close Trump ally has help elevate her to a position in the House leadership, made a point of aggressively defending Mr. Trump for his legal troubles. She played up the Republican-led congressional inquiries into President Biden and his son Hunter by repeatedly referring to them as the “Biden crime family” even as much of the testimony in the Biden cases has been called into question.

“The closer President Trump gets to victory, the dirtier the Democrats, their stenographers in the media and the corrupt prosecutors will get. They will stop at nothing, and I mean nothing, in their attempt to steal this next election,” Ms. Stefanik said.

She also sought to cast herself as an early supporter of Mr. Trump despite her earlier private criticism of him as a disaster for the Republican Party. Mr. Trump and his campaign have signaled that loyalty and deference to the former president are key qualities.

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