The current front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination cycled through familiar grievances and portrayed himself as the only person who could save the country from a doom-and-gloom future.
Former President Donald Trump cheered the direction the Republican Party has taken under his stewardship in a long and rambling speech in front of a friendly crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday evening.
The 1 hour and 45 minute address was filled with familiar grievances and doom-and-gloom warnings about Trump’s enemies and the direction of the country.
“The sinister forces trying to kill America have done everything they can to stop me, to silence you, and to turn this nation into a socialist dumping ground for criminals, junkies, Marxists, thugs, radicals and dangerous refugees that no other country wants,”
Trump told the crowd. “If those opposing us succeed, our once-beautiful USA will be a failed country that no one will even recognize – a lawless, open-borders, crime-ridden, filthy, communist nightmare.”
He spent most of the speech rehashing the years since his 2016 election and cherry-picked accomplishments from his time in the White House. He did not start talking in earnest about his policy plans for the future until more than an hour into the address.
The speech marked the former president’s most high-profile event since he declared his candidacy for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination in November – and he could hardly have given it to a more friendly crowd.
The public announcer introduced Trump as the “next president of the United States,” and 95% of attendees approve of the former president, according to a straw poll taken at the event.
The same straw poll found that 62% of attendees want Trump to win the Republican nomination – putting him more than 40 points ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has not officially declared his candidacy for the White House but who is considered by many as Trump’s strongest competition at this stage in the race.
Trump notably did not take any shot at DeSantis or other potential 2024 candidates, including former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who announced a White House bid last month and whose own CPAC speech on Friday drew a middling and unenthusiastic crowd.
Trump did, however, aim his ridicule at members of his own party that he has deemed insufficiently loyal or conservative, while praising the bombastic, rightward turn the GOP has taken in the years he has led the party.
“When we started this journey … we had a Republican Party that was ruled by freaks, neo-cons, globalists, open-border zealots and fools. But we are never going back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and Jeb Bush,” Trump said.
“We are never going back to a party that wants to give unlimited money to foreign wars, that are endless wars, that are stupid wars,” he said.
Trump’s hold on the party has loosened since the 2022 midterms, when a number of major Trump-backed candidates lost their races in what amounted to a deeply disappointing night for Republicans.
That has split the party on who may be best to next carry the torch.
Republicans are also worried that Trump would not back the nominee – or, worse, could run as a third-party candidate – if he does not win the GOP primary.
Ronna McDaniel, the newly reelected chairperson of the Republican National Committee, said recently that candidates would need to pledge to support the nominee to be allowed on the Republican debate stage. But Trump wouldn’t commit to the so-called loyalty pledge, he told reporters at CPAC.
“I’m just hearing about it for the first time, about the loyalty pledge, but there are probably people that I wouldn’t be very happy about endorsing who are running. So we’ll see,” Trump said, according to The Washington Times.
Trump criticized the U.S. for the extent of its support of Ukraine against the Russian invasion and demanded to know why NATO allies were not paying the same amount. He also said that the war would be over in “one day,” should he be elected.
The former president also cycled through a number of his typical complaints, railing against the “deep state,” denouncing anarchists and touching on an array of culture war issues – including gender issues, transgender issues and education.
He discussed the investigations into him that he has repeatedly described as witch hunts.
“I didn’t know that they want to lynch you for doing nothing wrong, I didn’t know they wanted to lynch you for doing your job,” Trump said.
Trump is facing a number of significant legal investigations. Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith is leading a probe into Trump’s handling of classified documents and his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
A prosecutor in Georgia is weighing criminal charges as part of an investigation into Trump and his allies’ possible attempt to overturn the election in the state.
And in New York, prosecutors are convening a grand jury in a case involving Trump’s hush-money payments to an adult film star.
Trump has remained defiant in the face of the investigations. He told right-wing news site NewsMax that he would remain in the presidential race even if he were indicted.
Trump notably did not spend a significant portion of his speech repeating the lie that the 2020 election was illegitimate, but he did shout out Americans who had been criminally charged for their participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“They’re sitting in a jail nearby, rotting away and being treated so unfairly, like nobody’s probably ever been treated in the country before – except maybe me,” he said, calling them “great patriots.”
Throughout the speech, Trump positioned himself as the one and only choice to save the future of the nation from those he identified as its enemies.
“Either they win or we win, and if they win, we no longer have a country,” he said.