Dallas — Former President Donald Trump made his return to the CPAC stage on Saturday, pushing his baseless election claims, bashing his enemies, and hinting at a possible 2024 run by saying, "We may have to do it again."
"If I stayed home, the persecution of Donald Trump would stop immediately, but I can't do that because I love my country and I love the people," he said.
Later in the nearly two-hour speech, he said, "America's comeback begins this November, and it will continue onward with the unstoppable momentum that we are going to develop in November 2024."
Trump did not announce another run for the White House in 2024, but he still comfortably won the CPAC straw poll, as he has in past years. In a straw poll with Trump removed from the list, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was the clear favorite with 65%, and Sen. Ted Cruz coming in a distant second with 6%. All others had less than 5%.
Trump pointed to the straw poll results frequently on stage, especially his approval rating among the conference's conservative attendees.
Trump spent a significant portion of the speech trashing moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have both signed onto the climate deal that the Senate was voting on while Trump was on the stage. Vice President Kamala Harristhe legislation as Trump was speaking. The bill received the support of all 50 Democrats and no Republicans. The Senate began debate after her vote, which will last for up to 20 hours before the Senate begins voting on the amendments.
Trump vowed to go to West Virginia, a state he won by nearly 20 points, and campaign against Manchin when he is up for reelection in 2024, as well as to campaign against Sinema when she also goes up for reelection that same year in Arizona.
Trump's former Attorney General Bill Barr, who resigned amid Trump's false claims after the 2020 election,that if Trump won in 2024, he would be a "78-year-old lame duck who's obviously bent on revenge more than anything else."
When Trump mentioned Barr, there were boos from the crowd. He also blasted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for allowing the deal to come to the Senate floor. Trump last month called McConnell, who refuses to defend Trump's actions surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, "disloyal." On Saturday, Trump said senators are only loyal to him because of his fundraising.
Trump made a few references to the House Jan. 6 committee — whichto present their findings about the attack on the U.S. Capitol — calling them "disgusting."
During an earlier speech by GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert, there were shouts in the crowd to "free the J6 defendants." Trump mentioned those charged in connection to the attack, saying, "Look at these people whose lives are being destroyed."
He also mocked the testimony of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson,Trump tried to grab the steering wheel of the presidential vehicle.
"So my hands fell around another powerful guy, strong as hell ... I know these people well, it's just not my deal," Trump said.
He jokingly added, "When that story came out, people said, 'I never knew you were that strong physically.'"
Trump repeated the claim that he wanted to call in the National Guard ahead of the Jan. 6 attack, saying that former Defense Department official Kash Patel was a witness to that. Thedisputing Trump's claim about having 10,000 troops at the ready.
"Not from my perspective, I was never given any direction or order or knew of any plans of that nature," Trump's acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said in a recorded deposition that the committee tweeted last month.
The biggest applause lines of the night, though, came when Trump discussed culture war issues, such as parental rights, and said he would "abolish the Department of Education" and "keep men out of women's sports." He also said he would not allow the teaching of critical race theory.
But Trump did not focus heavily on some of the Republican party's biggest culture war issues over the years, making only a passing reference to the Second Amendment. He made no mention of the Supreme Court's decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade, although it heavily featured throughout the conference.
Trump stuck to many of the themes of his previous speeches, hitting on crime, inflation and the U.S. being a "nation in decline."
Trump began his speech by announcing many of his allies running for office, or already in office, who were at the conference. That included Kari Lake, who introduced him Saturday fresh off her victory this week in the Republican primary for governor in Arizona.
Trump gave the closing speech on the final day of the three-day conference, which also featured far-right Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, who has said he does not want Hungarians to "become peoples of mixed race."
Saturday was the second speech in as many days for the former president, who visited Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Friday night, where he took a victory lap after a number of wins by his backed candidates in Tuesday's primaries.
"This has been an exceptional week for the America First movement, exceptional," Trump said Friday.
Trump had targeted Arizona — one of the states that swung toward President Biden in 2020 — in Tuesday's primaries, in an effort to install his loyalists. His endorsed candidates in Arizona won the Republican primaries for Senate, governor and secretary of state, the state's top election official.
Trump also had, a candidate in Arizona's 10th state Senate district running against Rusty Bowers, who had testified about Trump and his allies' attempts to install phony electors who supported Trump after the 2020 election. Farnsworth won that election as well.
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