ORLANDO, Fla. — Nearly four months after he lost the 2020 election, Donald J. Trump was able to celebrate being a winner again on Sunday, after he captured the 2024 presidential straw poll of the Conservative Political Action Conference, while Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida finished first in a second 2024 straw poll covering a field of potential candidates that did not include Mr. Trump.
But in a surprise bit of downbeat news for Mr. Trump, only 68 percent of those at the conference said they wanted the former president to run again in 2024. Far more attendees, 95 percent, said they wanted the Republican Party to advance Mr. Trump’s policies and agenda than endorsed him running again, even as the mere mention of Mr. Trump’s name earned loud applause throughout the three-day gathering of activists.
The straw polls, conducted by secret ballot, reflected the views of current and former elected officials, activists, writers and others who attended the three-day conference — a group that, generally speaking, represents the far-right wing of the Republican Party and now includes a disproportionate number of Mr. Trump’s most passionate supporters.
The former president had thoroughly dominated the weekend gathering in Orlando — a giant golden replica of him was a top attraction for activists — and organizers of the event, better known as CPAC, put together two straw polls to gauge the next presidential field whether Mr. Trump runs or not.
Mr. Trump carried 55 percent of the vote in the straw poll he was included in. Mr. DeSantis was the only Republican to reach double digits, with 21 percent support, in the straw poll that included Mr. Trump. The results were presented by Jim McLaughlin, a pollster for Mr. Trump who conducted the survey for CPAC.
Throughout the weekend, many of the CPAC speakers, especially other potential Republican 2024 candidates, had hailed Mr. Trump and made a case for his achievements to loud ovations on Friday and Saturday.
“Donald J. Trump ain’t going anywhere,” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said on Friday to thunderous applause.
The results were released on Sunday afternoon just before Mr. Trump appeared at CPAC to make the first speech of his post-presidency.
The top finish for Mr. DeSantis in the straw poll without Mr. Trump is a boost to his emergence as a leading Republican for the post-Trump era. As the governor of the crucial swing state of Florida (which is also now home to Mr. Trump), Mr. DeSantis has become a popular figure among science-skeptical Republicans for his resistance to Covid-related lockdowns.
His speech on Friday capture the current post-policy phase of Republicanism. “We can sit around and have academic debates about conservative policy, we can do that,” he said. “But the question is, when the Klieg lights get hot, when the left comes after you: Will you stay strong, or will you fold?”
Mr. DeSantis also vowed never to return to “the failed Republican establishment of yesteryear.” Mr. DeSantis, like other prospective presidential candidates, has not indicated if he indeed plans to run for the Republican nomination for the White House in 2024.
He earned 43 percent in the straw poll without Mr. Trump, with Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota finishing second, with 11 percent.
The CPAC straw polls have not proved particularly predictive of future presidential nominees. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky won three in a row in the run-up to the 2016 primary, which he quit after a poor showing in one contest — the Iowa caucuses. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah won four CPAC straw polls (in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012) but now is a figure whose name drew boos and derision as one of Mr. Trump’s fiercest Republican critics.
Still, the early 2021 success for Mr. DeSantis gives him a larger platform and bragging rights for a party that remains very much in search of any identity beyond fealty to Mr. Trump.
The straw poll result was likely discouraging for former Vice President Mike Pence, who did not attend the conference. He had served as Mr. Trump’s loyal No. 2 for four years, but his unwillingness to try to challenge or overturn the results of the 2020 election earned him Mr. Trump’s anger and, in turn, that of many in the Republican base. Mr. Pence earned one percent of the CPAC vote.