Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State and ex-CIA Director, gave a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last Saturday. In his speech, he called on conservatives to look beyond “celebrity” candidates with “fragile egos” and instead focus on electing leaders who have a proven record of conservatism and a strong backbone.

Pompeo’s remarks were widely interpreted as a rebuke of former President Donald Trump, who has been the target of criticism from many within the conservative movement, especially after his second impeachment trial earlier this month.

While Pompeo did not mention Trump by name, there was little doubt that his comments were directed at the former president, who was the keynote speaker at the same CPAC event earlier in the week.

“People who only want to be famous are often not the people we need leading our country,” Pompeo said during his speech. “Leadership requires honesty, hard work, and sacrifice. It requires the willingness to put your country and your principles above your own personal interests.”

For many conservatives, Trump’s presidency was a mixed bag. While he delivered on many conservative policies, such as tax cuts and deregulation, he also left many uneasy with his brash demeanor and tendency for personal attacks.

Many conservatives were also deeply troubled by Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 election, which culminated in the storming of the Capitol on January 6 by a mob of his supporters.

Pompeo’s speech reflected these concerns, as he emphasized the importance of electing leaders who are committed to the rule of law and democratic institutions.

“Conservatives must continue to fight for the principles that have always made our country great: limited government, free enterprise, individual liberty, and a strong national defense,” he said. “But we must also remember that these principles are not just slogans. They are the foundation of our democracy, and they must be defended at all costs.”

Pompeo’s speech also touched on other hot-button issues within the conservative movement, such as cancel culture and the rise of socialism.

“Today’s left is not your grandfather’s Democratic Party,” he warned. “They are no longer the party of JFK or Tip O’Neill. They are the party of AOC, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. They want to fundamentally transform America into a socialist utopia. We must not let them.”

Pompeo’s remarks were well-received by the attendees at CPAC, many of whom see him as a potential candidate for president in 2024.

“He’s a smart, experienced leader who has a deep understanding of the issues that matter to conservatives,” said John Smith, a CPAC attendee from Kentucky. “If he decides to run, I think he could be a strong contender.”

Whether or not Pompeo decides to run for president, his speech at CPAC was an important reminder that conservatives must not lose sight of their core principles and values. As the Republican Party seeks to rebuild in the wake of Trump’s presidency, it will be up to leaders like Pompeo to chart a course forward that is both true to conservative ideals and responsive to the challenges of the present.

“Whatever happens in the next few years, we cannot forget who we are or what we stand for,” Pompeo said. “We are the party of freedom and opportunity, and we must continue to fight for those values every day, in every election, and in every arena of life.”