Defensive Trump insists CPAC speech was packed after Chris Christie led mockery over empty seats

Donald Trump went on the defensive bright and early on Monday morning as he chafed over coverage of his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington DC over the weekend.

The former president contended that “you couldn’t get into the building” as he insisted that seating for his speech was filled and that his supporters had flocked to CPAC to see him.

In reality, any delays getting in to the massive Gaylord hotel and convention centre were likely caused by the security screenings put in place by the US Secret Service — while the main ballroom notably filled up moreso than it had for smaller-name speakers like Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley, it was far from a “standing room only” event like the rallies Mr Trump became known for in 2016 and, to a lesser extent, in 2020.

“CPAC was packed for my speech, you couldn’t get into the building. A special thanks to the area Fire Department for making it work so well. Great job!” he wrote on his Truth Social platform.

The Independent witnessed that the actual attendance in the room, judged to be a couple thousand people, did not fill the spacious ballroom used by CPAC for their main stage, instead only reaching about two-thirds capacity.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who ran for president against Mr Trump in the 2016 GOP primary before flirting with the idea of taking a job in the Trump administration, contended on ABC’s This Week that the crowd size was evident of the former president’s failing hold on the GOP and the enthusiasm that has drained from his support base in the months since he left the presidency in the wake of the January 6 attack.

“He measures [crowd size] as an example of his own power and his own authority, and I don’t think he has it any more,” Mr Christie said. “You saw the scenes at CPAC. That room was half full.”

Mr Trump has long enjoyed hosting large, flashy campaign rallies in key swing states around the country held in large venues where thousands can attend; in recent months, those rallies have occurred less and less as the former president battles to keep his dominance over the Republican Party intact amid intense criticism of the performance of his allies during the 2022 midterm elections.

The former president remains one of two prominent Republican ex-electeds running for the 2024 GOP nomination, the other announced candidate being former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.