Former President Trump teased the possibility he might run again and blasted his political rivals on both sides of the aisle in remarks Sunday to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.
“Hello, CPAC,” Trump said after taking the stage. “Do you miss me yet?”
Trump’s first major speech since leaving office last month shattered standard protocol for ex-presidents and provided a glimpse into the deep fractures in the Republican Party.
After being in the headlines and on social media constantly for four years, Trump has kept — by his standards — a relatively low profile since leaving office. That has partly been the result of decisions made by major social media companies following the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol to deplatform Trump and many of his top allies for making false claims about his election loss.
Stripped of his Twitter platform, Trump has primarily been heard via emailed statements and a handful of interviews since leaving the White House.
Trump’s CPAC speech was a return to the political arena, and he used it to continue peddling false election fraud claims. Before the remarks, there was even speculation he might use the venue to announce plans to run for president again.
Trump dismissed some of those rumors onstage when he declared he has no plans to “start a brand new party.” While Trump has feuded with some Republicans — particularly those who backed impeaching him for inciting the violence at the Capitol — he said forming a third party would “divide our votes.”
“We have the Republican Party,” Trump said. “It’s going to unite and be stronger than ever before. I am not starting a new party.”
Former presidents typically remain relatively far from the political fray for an initial period after leaving office. They also traditionally refrain from criticism of their successors outside of a campaign. Trump broke both those precedents with his CPAC speech, in which he criticized the current president, Joe Biden, for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and immigration.
“Joe Biden has had the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history,” Trump said.
Trump urged his fellow Republicans to band together in opposition to Biden. He described the future of the GOP as being rooted in defending America’s economic interests and traditional values. Trump particularly railed against “left-wing lunacy” and “toxic cancel culture.”
The former president claimed — as he has multiple times before — that he won the 2020 election, and indicated he is considering trying to win his old job back.
“I may even decide to beat them for a third time,” Trump said of the Democrats.
As Trump went on to criticize what he called a “corrupt” election process, some in the CPAC crowd chanted, “You won! You won!”
“We did,” Trump replied.
There is no basis to Trump’s claims. Officials from both parties certified the election results, and almost every legal challenge made by Trump’s team — including many that came before judges he appointed — failed. But Trump had harsh words for the Republicans who have refused to go along with his election claims. At one point he rattled off the names of establishment Republicans who acknowledged Biden’s win or voted for his impeachment, calling them RINOs, or “Republican in Name Only.”
“If Republicans do not stick together, the RINOs that we’re surrounded with will destroy the Republican Party, and the American worker, and will destroy our country itself."
Many top Republicans skipped the CPAC conference this year following criticism of Trump that came in the wake of the Capitol attack. CPAC attendees were still clearly in Trump’s camp, however, as he easily won the group’s straw poll that asked whom respondents would vote for in a hypothetical Republican primary. The event was a stark reminder that Trump has tremendous sway over the party even while he faces opposition from many of its leaders.
Even as he acknowledged his Republican critics, Trump insisted the GOP is largely on the same page.
“The Republican Party is united,” he said. “The only division is between a handful of Washington, D.C., establishment political hacks and everybody else all over the country.”
While he didn’t commit to running for office again, Trump vowed he would be “actively working to elect smart, tough and strong Republican leaders.”
As he wrapped up more than an hour of remarks, Trump encouraged the audience to support his political action committee. He vowed this would help the GOP take back the White House — and strongly hinted that he might be interested in leading that effort.
“With your help we will take back the House, we will win the Senate, and then a Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House,” Trump said. “I wonder who that will be. I wonder who that will be?”
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