Donald Trump still has grievances to air — and a Republican Party eager to bask in his indignation.
In his first major address since leaving office, Trump on Sunday laced into his Democratic successor, Joe Biden, chided “establishment political hacks” from his own party and pressed his false claim that he won the November election, which he lost decisively.
And to an explosion of applause, he suggested he may run again in 2024.
“Who knows?” Trump said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla. “I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”
The speech served as formal notice of his continued dominance over the Republican Party — and a return to campaign form for the former president. The rapturous reception Trump received at the country’s most prominent annual conservative gathering signaled the totality of the Republican base’s embrace, as well as the peril facing less Trumpian elements of the party.
In the annual CPAC presidential straw poll released shortly before Trump spoke, 95 percent of conference attendees said the GOP should continue to embrace Trump’s issues and policy ideas, and 68 percent of attendees said Trump should run again in 2024.
In a crowded field of potential presidential primary contenders, Trump ran miles ahead with 55 percent support, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, at 21 percent. Every other GOP politician polled registered in single digits.
Still, for all the current energy surrounding Trump, CPAC is also a reminder of how quickly fortunes can change. In 2016, it was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who won the CPAC straw poll, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — both of them ultimately vanquished by Trump. In 2013, the year after the last presidential election won by a Democrat, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was the toast of CPAC, before seeing his own presidential ambitions fade.
For the former president, irrelevancy would be the ultimate defeat. So on Sunday, he brushed aside yet another American political tradition — that of former presidents avoiding partisan politics for a period of months immediately after leaving office — and took direct aim at his opponents, past and present.
Defeated in November and twice impeached, Trump’s list of targets was long. For roughly 90 minutes, the former president chastised “top establishment Republicans,” “RINO’s” and other Republicans who have criticized him.
Banned from Twitter, he said Big Tech companies “should be punished with major sanctions whenever they silence conservative voices.” And in a wide-ranging critique of Biden’s first month in office, he lit into the Democratic president for his handling of everything from the coronavirus vaccine distribution to immigration, education and protections for people who are transgender.