Where are all the Donald Trump supporters?
Trump may have the momentum in the Republican presidential contest but there’s little evidence that he’s captured the heart of the conservative movement at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
In interviews with over a dozen conservative grassroots activists who made the pilgrimage to this year’s conference, many told ABC News that they feel the Republican Party has been hijacked by the GOP front-runner and now see a contested convention as the best way to deny Trump the party’s nomination.
“I think a brokered convention may be our only hope, our only way out,” said 79 year-old Bill Rogers, a longtime CPAC-goer from Virginia and a Marco Rubio supporter. Rogers also said the thought of Trump in the Oval Office “scares” him.
“I’m hoping for a brokered convention at this point,” JT Logan, a CPAC newcomer and Virginia Tech University student, told ABC News.
Logan, who is backing Ted Cruz, celebrated the fact that John Kasich is still in the race, even though he does not support the Ohio governor.
“If he wins Ohio, there’s a better chance for a brokered convention,” Logan said of Kasich. “If Kasich wasn’t in the race, Trump would probably win Ohio and that would the end all, be all, too much momentum.”
Wade Leach, a 20-year-old student from Davidson College in North Carolina, summed up the sentiment echoed by many of the activists: “Trump may be running under the Republican name, but he is not a conservative.”
“Here at CPAC you’re going to see more people that are involved in expanding conservative ideas, and as a result of that, you’re going to see fewer Trump supporters here,” Leach said.
Paul Knag, a Connecticut activist who said he’s been attending CPAC since the days when Ronald Reagan ran for office, offered a similar explanation for the apparent lack of Trump support at the conference.
“Trump is not a part of the conservative movement, he has been a Democrat all his life,” Knag said. “He has a long record of being a liberal Democrat and he doesn’t have the temperament. He makes fun of people with disabilities, he makes fun of McCain for having been a POW, he makes fun of women like Carly Fiorina.”
Though the majority of activists interviewed expressed their opposition to the current front-runner, 21-year-old Chris Jacobson of Michigan was vocal in his support for Trump.
“I’m gay and I’m for Trump,” said Jacobson, who believes Trump is less “degrading” to gay people than some of the other candidates. He also expressed his frustration at the “anti-Trump sentiment” he’s found at CPAC.
“It’s sad, this is a conservative place, and people are looked down on who support Trump,” Jacobson said.
Though CPAC has proven to be a lonely place to be a Trump supporter, according to Jacobson, he has found others rooting for the real estate mogul – even if most are not as upfront as he is about their support.
“When I wear my hat, I’ve had people stop me and say, 'Yes, we’re for him, glad you’re wearing the hat,'” Jacobson said.
Jessica Stoner, a student from Ohio who was standing next to Jacobson, chimed in after his interview to tell Jacobson he’s only the third person she’s found at the conference who is supporting Trump.
“You hate gay people, you’re arrogant, that’s the image of the typical Trump supporter,” said Stoner, who prefers Rubio or Cruz to Trump.
Many of those opposing Trump told ABC News they were hoping to see ideas presented on the sidelines of the conference to wrest control of the primary away from Trump, but there is little evidence that such organizing is underway.
"I think something should be happening, because it's very clear that Trump isn't a Republican and is just using the ticket to get in," said Kelvey Vander Hart, an Iowan who volunteers for Cruz in her home state.
CPAC organizers explained that no “anti-Trump” efforts would be allowed - in any official sense - at the conference, which is strictly candidate-neutral.
“The only candidate that we hope CPAC attendees will organize against is Hillary Clinton,” said Ian Walters, the communications director of American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC.