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Hundreds of billboard ads attacking Trump's GOP surround CPAC

Conference attendees shop for merchandise at a trade show at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, in Orlando, Fla.
John Raoux/AP
Conference attendees shop for merchandise at a trade show at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, in Orlando, Fla.

More than a hundred billboard ads attacking former President Donald Trump’s influence on the Republican Party greet motorists driving in and around Orlando, where the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference is underway.

“Billboards are a very effective tool at getting a message across," said Gunner Ramer, political director for the Republican Accountability Project, a "dark money" anti-Trump group that's paying for the ads. "The people driving in are going to see that message, and if that is able to resonate at all with the people that we’re trying to talk to, then that is fantastic. That is the goal.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at CPAC on Thursday. And Trump is headlining this year’s premier annual gathering of the nation’s conservatives with a speech on Saturday night.

Neoconservative thinker Bill Kristol is the project's executive chairman. Kristol — who served in the White House under former Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan— has long pushed for an interventionist U.S. foreign policy. He’s also an outspoken Trump critic.

The billboards showcase quotes from former GOP voters who’ve left the party because they’re dissatisfied with Trump’s influence on the Republican Party.

"We just wanted to send a reminder that there is a not insignificant amount of Republicans out there that feel completely abandoned by the Republican Party," Ramer said.

One of those voters is Kim Carroll, a Longwood resident. She joined the party in the early 1980s after listening to a speech by Reagan, Carroll said. She didn’t support Trump’s candidacy in 2016 and changed her voter registration to independent on January 7th, 2021.

“Over the four years, I kept thinking at some point they’re going to wake up, their sanity is going to come back and it didn’t," Carroll said. "When he started talking a year before the election about how it was going to be a rigged election and continued afterwards and they stormed the Capitol on January sixth. I just decided that was enough. The party was not going to come back.”

Mitizi Prater, the Bay County Republican State Committeewoman, says she’s not fond of the billboards, even though everyone has a right to express their views. “I don’t love the visuals," Prater said. "I don’t like trashing candidates. I don’t think that is in our best interest.”

At the national level, moderate conservatives and Republicans helped Joe Biden win the presidency in 2020.

Prater says she's confident that pushback from conservative voters opposed to Trump won't hurt the party's candidates in the upcoming elections.

And in Florida, Republicans have outpaced Democrats in voter registration numbers leading up to the 2022 elections.

“Florida just stands out," Prater said. "Everywhere you go in America everybody says, ‘Oh, Florida, Governor DeSantis, freedom, yes.”

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.