Watch: Trump hints he may run for president in 2024
Donald Trump on Sunday launched his attempted political comeback, teasing a possible run for the presidency in 2024 and denouncing Joe Biden for “the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history”.
The former president made his first speech since leaving the White House at the rightwing Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, to an effusive reception.
Trump claims, entirely falsely, that he actually won the 2020 election but was fraudulently denied his victory.
He told CPAC the Democrats “just lost” the White House, despite the fact that Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the US on 20 January, sworn in by the supreme court chief justice, John Roberts. And officials at all levels called the election the most secure in US history.
Trump said, to wild cheers: “I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”
The twice impeached ex-president unleashed pent-up frustration after two months of social media silence – he was banned by Facebook and Twitter for incendiary comments – and just a handful of TV interviews.
Trump made it clear he intends to remain a political force by declaring: “I stand before you today to declare that the incredible journey we began together four years ago is far from over.”
“We all knew that the Biden administration was going to be bad – but none of us imagined just how bad they would be, and how far left they would go... Joe Biden has had the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history.
And adding: “Biden’s radical immigration policies aren’t just illegal – they are immoral, they are heartless, and they are a betrayal of our nation’s core values.”
Trump called on Biden to reopen schools despite ongoing safety fears due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Watch: Trump says he has no plans to form third party
The former president also invoked his “America first” nationalist agenda by insisting: “We believe in standing up to China, shutting down outsourcing, bringing back our factories and supply chains, and ensuring that America, not China, dominates the future.”
In a speech that lasted about 90 minutes, Trump fell back on his reliable rightwing themes against immigration, especially dealing harshly with migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, and talking up his barrier strengthening there.
He also took off on a transphobic rant, claiming that transgender athletes were ruining women’s sport.
And Trump positioned himself at the presumed heart of the Republicans, saying any idea that he was going to lead a breakaway political party was “fake news”.
Despite the recent bipartisan vote at his impeachment trial, where he escaped conviction, Trump claims the Republican party is “united”. “The only division is between a handful of Washington DC establishment political hacks, and everybody else all over the country.”
Most commentators expect Trump, aged 74, to leave open the possibility that he will run for re-election in 2024 without making a definitive commitment. He has remained a looming presence at CPAC, with speaker after speaker pledging fealty to him and his “Make America great again” agenda, while a golden calf-style idol in his image was even paraded around the convention halls.
Numerous speakers and panels have also indulged and promoted Trump’s brazen lie that the election was stolen from him.
Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union, which runs the conference, claimed: “CPAC is your first opportunity to see what actually happened on election day. And there was widespread voter fraud in way too many states, most especially in big cities run by the Democrat machine. That is fact and we gave you evidence to underscore that fact.”
Tom Fitton, president of the rightwing group Judicial Watch, told attendees: “On election day, President Trump had the votes to win the presidency. These vote totals were changed because of unprecedented and extraordinary counting after election day. Judicial Watch has long warned of the chaos and increased risk of fraud from recklessly mailing one hundred million ballots and ballot applications.”
Such claims have repeatedly been proved false. Mail-in voting surged because of the coronavirus pandemic but state officials, including Republicans, reported no significant irregularities. The former president and his allies lost more than 60 legal challenges, including those weighed by Trump-appointed judges. Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, dismissed the fraud allegations.
For all the talk of party unity, CPAC was notable for the absence of former vice-president Mike Pence, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and other leading Republicans.
Bill Cassidy, a Republican senator from Louisiana, insisted that CPAC does not represent the entire Republican party. “Now, if we plan to win in [midterm elections in] 2022 and [the presidential election] in 2024, we have to listen to the voters, not just those who really like President Trump, but also those who perhaps are less sure,” he told CNN’s State of the Union programme. “If we idolise one person, we will lose. And that’s kind of clear from the last election.”
Watch: Trump says his journey is 'far from over'