For roughly 90 minutes, Trump chastised “top establishment Republicans,” “RINO’s” and other Republicans who have criticized him. Banned from Twitter, he said Big Tech companies “should be punished with major sanctions whenever they silence conservative voices.” And in a wide-ranging critique of Biden’s first month in office, he lit into the Democratic president for his handling of everything from the coronavirus vaccine distribution to immigration, education and protections for people who are transgender.
“None of us even imagined just how bad they would be and how far left they would go,” Trump said, calling the Biden administration “anti-jobs, anti-family, anti-borders, anti-energy, anti-women and anti-science.”
“In just one short month, we have gone from ‘America First’ to ‘America Last,’” Trump said.
His own accomplishments, the twice-impeached president said, were superior both in terms of government and politics. Trump credited himself with his party’s down-ballot successes in November, despite many down-ballot Republicans over-performing him in their districts.
He predicted the Democratic Party would suffer “withering losses” in the midterm elections and that in four years, “A Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House.”
He added, “And I wonder who that will be?”
If Trump is teasing another run in 2024, however, he is far from over his last defeat. In an extended riff on the November election, he perpetuated the false claim — rejected by elections experts and administrators and by courts across the country — that the election was stolen.
When he said, “This election was rigged,” the crowd chanted, “You won!”
Trump’s comparison of his own presidency to Biden’s belied his successor’s relatively high public approval ratings — and Trump’s poor ones. But CPAC is an accommodating crowd.
In the annual CPAC presidential straw poll released shortly before Trump spoke, 95 percent of conference attendees said the GOP should continue with Trump’s issues and policy ideas, and 68 percent of attendees said Trump should run again in 2024.
In a crowded field of potential primary contenders, Trump crushed the field with 55 percent support, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with 21 percent. Every other GOP politician polled registered in single digits.
Even before Sunday, Trump loomed over the 2022 midterm elections and — whether he runs again or not — the presidential primary in 2024. He is preparing to stand up a super PAC, and on Friday, he endorsed Max Miller, a former White House aide, in his campaign to unseat Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, one of 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment.
Trump’s aides had urged him before speaking Sunday to focus his ire on Biden and the Democratic Party, while limiting mentions of his disputes with Republican lawmakers who have criticized him. Instead, he blistered by name the Republicans who supported his second impeachment, including “grandstanders” like Sens. Mitt Romney and “Little Ben Sasse” and the “warmonger” Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
“Get rid of them all,” Trump said.
Still, Trump described the dispute within the Republican Party as a limited one: “The only division is between a handful of Washington, D.C. establishment political hacks and everybody else all over the country,” he said, adding, “I think we have tremendous unity.”
Trump also ruled out starting a third party, calling “fake news” an idea he had once floated himself.
Trump’s re-emergence in public life was, for the celebrity-turned-president, never in doubt. But it was yet another break with tradition for Trump, as presidents leaving office typically recede from partisan politics for a period of months immediately afterward.
Banned from Twitter and relegated from the White House, the former president reveled in the praise lavished on him at CPAC.
Taking the stage at CPAC, he said, “Do you miss me yet?”
The audience erupted, at times chanted, “USA! USA!.” Later, it broke into a sustained call of “We love you! We love you!”
It was a fitting finale to an event that included a gilded statue of Trump and a roster of Republicans all promoting him. Sen. Ted Cruz, himself a potential 2024 presidential contender, said during the conference that “Donald J. Trump ain’t going anywhere.” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top White House economic adviser, heralded Trump’s “enormously consequential” presidency and referred to him as “the boss.” And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed, “We cannot, we will not, go back to the days of the failed Republican establishment of yesteryear.”
The straw poll was in line with the sentiment of the broader Republican electorate, a majority of which, 53 percent, would pick Trump over any other Republican if the 2024 primary were held today. On Sunday, Rep. Jim Jordan said he hopes Trump runs again in 2024 and, “If he does, he will win.”