ORLANDO, Florida – Donald Trump re-entered political life Sunday by attacking President Joe Biden, condemning Republican opponents and declaring himself the leader of a GOP caused by election defeats and last month’s pro-Trump uprising in the US -Capitol was coined.
“Do you already miss me?” Trump told a conference of conservative activists after taking the stage more than an hour after his scheduled start time. “A lot of things are going on.”
Trump’s attacks on other Republicans – and his support for the primary challengers of some GOP lawmakers – threaten to further divide the party as it seeks to regain control of Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024.
Ahead of the speech, other Republicans said the party could only win elections in 2022 and 2024 by asking voters to vote with them on issues, not Trump. Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La., Told CNN’s State of the Union that the GOP couldn’t win if they put a man on “a pedestal.”
If “we can talk to these families with this policy, we will win,” said Cassidy, one of the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump of inciting the January 6 insurrection. “But if we idolize a person, we will lose.”
In his address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump did not declare a presidential candidacy for 2024, but said the “journey” of him and his supporters was “far from over”. He mentioned plans to get involved in the 2022 congressional election and support Republicans who join his “Make America Great Again” agenda.
The ex-president also denied that he was planning to create a new political party, telling his Republicans he would “continue to fight right by your side”.
Although he did not step down until January 20, Trump also began beating up his yet-to-be-replaced successor, Biden, claiming he had “the most disastrous first month of a president in modern history”. Trump urged Biden to support reopening schools despite the pandemic and to stand up for China and its trade practices.
Democrats and Biden officials said they are cleaning up the mess Trump has left, from his COVID-19 response and restrictive immigration policies to frayed relationships with international allies.
White House officials have said neither she nor Biden have any plans to say much about Trump’s speech because they expect to be busy.
“I wouldn’t say he put much thought into the former president’s visit – I was going to say ‘performance’, maybe that’s appropriate – at CPAC,” said Jen Psaki, White House press secretary.
Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson said it has been a year since Trump downplayed the then-looming threat of COVID-19. “After all of the GOP’s failures to fight them and over 500,000 deaths, Trump will urge this crowd – his most loyal subjects – to praise him for it,” said Ferguson.
Trump’s first speech after his presidency could be long. Trump, who spoke frequently at CPAC before and after his presidency, spoke for two hours during his 2019 appearance.
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The ex-president also plans to target Republicans who expressed support for his impeachment or refused to help him in efforts to overturn his loss of the election to Biden.
Some of these Republicans are calling on the party to get past Trump, citing his role in the insurrection and calling him a divisive leader who would drag the party down to further defeat.
“I don’t think he should play a role in the future of the party or the country,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. 6 Attack on the US Capitol.
Aside from occasional written statements and brief telephone interviews on cable television, Trump has hit rock bottom since leaving office, particularly during the Senate impeachment trial earlier this month.
The Senate acquitted Trump on charges of instigating the uprising, but only because the prosecution could not get the two-thirds votes necessary for the conviction. As it was, 57 of the 100 senators voted in favor of Trump’s conviction, including seven Republicans – other possible targets for Trump’s CPAC speech.
The ex-president found a friendly crowd. Speaker for speaker has praised Trump since CPAC opened on Thursday night. Many delegates have lined up to take pictures next to a gold statue of Trump adorned with a coat and tie, beach shorts, flip flops and a magic wand.
His speech turned CPAC into something of a Trump political rally, with delegates cheering, standing, and wearing hats, t-shirts and pins with Trump designs.
In a straw poll conducted during the conference, 55% of CPAC delegates said they wanted Trump to become the Republican candidate in 2024. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who likely had a home advantage at the Orlando conference, finished second with 21% among other possible single-digit GOP candidates.
Several CPAC attendees asked if Trump will or should run. Just over two-thirds of delegates, 68%, said the ex-president should run again in three years, while 32% said he shouldn’t or had no opinion on the matter.
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Just before Trump’s speech, a CPAC spokesman – Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio – told the crowd that he was “the leader of the Conservative movement” and “the leader of the Republican Party”. The delegates gave these lines a standing ovation.
The anticipated attacks on Biden are unique in modern times. Other ex-presidents have criticized their successors, but none have already done so in the new president’s first term as Trump.
Instead of hiding from the political scene like many previous ex-presidents, Trump plans to stay in the limelight, for better or for worse, as far as Republicans are concerned.
Trump and his allies are even planning to participate in the Republican primary next month. You have vowed to support the main Republican challengers he considers disloyal, particularly the ten Republicans in the House who voted for impeachment.
On Friday, Trump assisted former White House advisor Max Miller in his challenge to an impeachment supporter of Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio.
Denver Riggleman, a former Virginia Republican congressman who is now opposing Trump, expects him to aggressively attack critics on Sunday while building a “personality cult” within a Republican party on the verge of civil war.
Riggleman said, “You have people who are loyal to Trump versus people who are loyal to the Constitution.”
Some Democrats welcome Trump’s return to politics. Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, described Trump’s reappearance as a gift to the Democrats that helped them raise money and defeat GOP opponents in 2022 and 2024.
“Oh, he’s a hot, messy gift,” Harrison told MSNBC.
Others said Trump’s speech would reinforce his continued rule over the Republican Party. Joe Walsh, a former GOP congressman, now a conservative critic of Trump, said, “It’s his party and he knows it.”
“We all underestimate its influence on the party,” said Walsh. “The next four years are his to do what he wants.”