Donald Trump was over an hour late for his first speech since leaving the White House at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida.
The former president finally emerged at 4:47 p.m., kissing the American flag as the PA system blasted Lee Greenwood’s ‘God Bless the USA’. He waited, applauding the crowd for the duration of the song before beginning his prepared remarks at 4:50 p.m. ‘Hello CPAC — do you miss me yet?’ he asked the crowd.
Trump quickly laid to rest some of the stories that have swirled since his departure from office. ’We’re not starting new parties,’ Trump said. ‘We have the Republican party…that was fake news.’
He then launched into the issue everyone expected him to tackle: immigration. In one month, he said, Joe Biden had changed the country from ‘America first to America last’, citing the rise in illegal immigration since President Biden took office. ‘The Biden administration has put the vile coyotes back in business,’ he said. Later he called for President Biden to reopen schools now. ‘Joe Biden has sold out America’s children to the teachers’ unions,’ he said.
The former president talked up how the Trump administration should get their dues for the success of his Middle East peace deals, American energy independence and Operation Warp Speed: ‘Never let them take the credit, because they don’t deserve it.’
Most significantly, Trump flirted with the idea of a 2024 president run. ‘Who knows — I may even decide to beat them for a third time?’ Trump said, whipping the audience into a frenzy and referring to Melania as ‘our great future First Lady.’
Trump also declared the 2020 election ‘illegal’, explaining how he thought ‘the Democrats used the China virus to change the election rules.’ ‘This election was rigged,’ Trump said. In the front row of the media overspill room, defeated congressional candidates Laura Loomer and Lauren Witzke applauded. In the arena, the crowd chanted ‘You won.’
‘What happened at 3:02 in the morning?’ he lamented later.
Mentions of various traditional Trump hate figures earned boos from the crowd: Fox News’s Chris Wallace, the World Health Organization and a new one: ‘women’s sports’, with the former president testing out some culture war material. Trump also listed every Republican representative and senator who had voted to impeach or convict him following the Capitol riots.
Trump declared the Republican party ‘the party of love’ and eulogized the late radio legend Rush Limbaugh, whose widow Catherine watched alongside the Schlapps. He offered his own definition of ‘Trumpism’ — the kind of reflection on his legacy we might have expected in a handover speech had Trump left office under more normal circumstances.
Ahead of his 90-minute speech, the 2021 CPAC straw poll unsurprisingly showed a big appetite for Trumpism: 95 percent of attendees thought Republicans should continue Donald Trump’s issue agenda and policies. But the poll didn’t yield as full-throated a defense of Trump the man as many expected: only 55 percent of attendees would support Trump in the 2024 primary, with Florida governor Ron DeSantis in second on 21 percent and South Dakota governor Kristi Noem in third on four percent. Just 68 percent would like to see Trump run for president again — 15 percent would not and 17 percent were unsure.
Without Trump, the CPAC crowd’s favored 2024 nominee is Ron DeSantis on 43 percent, with 11 percent preferring Kristi Noem and 8 percent wanting Don Jr. In the same poll Ivanka and Tucker Carlson on three percent outscored Mike Pence, Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, each on one percent.
Trump touted the significance of his endorsement and described his intention to elect MAGA midterm candidates in 2022 through his Save America PAC.
He concluded: ‘A Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House — and I wonder who that will be? Who, who, who will that be? I wonder.’