Before he became president and before his campaign, Donald Trump made his first appearance as a surprise speaker at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference. It was one of the earliest hints at an upcoming presidential campaign as a conservative. He ended up not making that run, but he still got his name out there.
Despite some negative reactions, a former GOP official called Trump's speech "the most important event at CPAC; Trump came out of the closet in the sense of revealing he is a conservative."
Unlike other speakers at the event, Trump wasn't yet seen as a political figure — as a former registered Democrat, he was barely even seen as a conservative figure. That lack of established ties to the party allowed him to speak more bluntly to a growing group of conservatives: those skeptical of the establishment and career politicians.
With phrases like "our country will be great again," Trump's 2011 speech laid out a platform focused on the country's place in world economics. Almost a year later, shortly after Mitt Romney's election loss, Trump decided on another major part of his future campaign: his slogan "Make America Great Again."
Since his 2011 appearance, Trump spoke at CPAC four more times, backing down in 2016 following criticism from some attendees. This year, he'll be making his second appearance there as president.