ORLANDO, Florida — Former President Donald Trump burst back onto the political stage Sunday and refashioned his MAGA movement into a fierce opposition effort against the Biden White House and the Democratic-run Congress.
In his first speech since leaving office, Mr. Trump told the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that it took President Biden a mere month to transform the nation from “America First to America Last.”
He slapped down reports that he was interested in creating a new political party, vowed to unite the GOP and assured his loyal supporters that Trumpism will continue to transform the party and sweep it back into power.
Mr. Trump even hinted he could run again.
“A Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House and I wonder who that will be. Who, who, who will that be?” he said to cheers and applause from the conservative activists gathered in Orlando.
“Our movement of hard-working American patriots is just getting started and in the end, we will win,” he said. “For the next four years, the brave Republicans in this room will be at the heart of the effort to oppose the radical Democrats, the fake news media, and their toxic cancel culture.”
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The speech hit all the right notes for Mr. Trump’s fans at CPAC.
“It was what I was hoping to hear,” said Lisa Wall, 52, who described herself as a “diehard conservative” from Michigan. “It is exciting for him to have a presence and keep our country rolling the way it should be or where it was.”
To unite the party, Mr. Trump offered up a common enemy — Mr. Biden — and the Democratic agenda that offends the core conservative values embraced at CPAC.
He dedicated much of the speech to attacking Mr. Biden and the early moves by his administration.
“We all knew the Biden administration was going to be bad, but none of us ever imagined just how bad they would be and just how far left they would go,” he said.
Mr. Trump blamed Mr. Biden for a litany of actions that he said set back the country:
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• Canceling the Keystone XL pipeline and causing thousands of job losses;
• Rejoining the Paris climate agreement and putting the U.S. at an economic disadvantage against China;
• Jeopardizing America’s energy independence and inviting high energy costs;
• Rolling back Trump-era immigration policies that “triggered a massive flood of illegal immigration.”
“Biden has failed in his number one duty as chief executive — enforcing America’s laws,” Mr. Trump said.
He also accused the Biden White House’s “anti-science school closures” were hurting students.
“On behalf of the moms, dad and children of America I call on Joe Biden to get the schools open and get them open now,” he said.
Mr. Trump said these decisions will haunt Democrats in the coming elections — predicting the GOP will flip control of Congress in 2022 and then win back the White House in 2024.
Mr. Trump’s call for unity, however, did not include his foes within the Republican Party.
He said the party needs to do some housecleaning and called out Republican “grandstanders” and “political hacks” who voted to impeach him for inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
He promised to work actively to elect his kind of “strong, tough and smart Republican leaders,” apparently to replace the disloyal Republican lawmakers.
Taking specific aim at Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, he described her as a “warmonger” who “loves seeing our troops fighting.”
“So hopefully they will get rid of her with the next election,” he said. “Get rid of them all.”
Mr. Trump created a rift in the Republican Party when he ran for the presidential nomination in 2016 and beat the party establishment. He won by supplanting the neoconservative and free-trade doctrine that long dominated conservative politics with a populist America-first message that energized blue-collar and other “invisible” voters.
The rift never closed. It also grew wider in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, which helped expand opposition to Mr. Trump within the traditional Republican establishment in Washington.
Mr. Trump defined “Trumpism” as a movement that champions: good trade deals; low taxes; fewer regulations; strong borders; law and order; a strong military; and Second Amendment gun rights.
“It means support for the forgotten men and women who have been taken advantage of for so many years,” he said.
Mr. Trump reiterated his insistence that he won the 2020 election. The claim was the impetus for the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and has become a top criticism from Democrats and liberal-leaning news media who call it “the big lie.”
Election integrity, however, is the top issue for the activists at CPAC and the Republican Party.
Mr. Trump also pressed the need for Republicans to fight for new election safeguards such as voter ID laws.
Mr. Trump’s CPAC address marked his first post-presidency appearance and closed out the annual conservative gathering, which has been transformed by Trumpism.
He was by far the biggest attraction of the three-day conference, which was customarily held in the Washington, D.C. area but relocated this year to Florida because of the state’s looser coronavirus protocols.
The conference featured the who’s who of a modern-day conservative movement molded by Mr. Trump and his no-holds-barred approach to politics.
The list of speakers included many possible 2024 presidential contenders who tested their appeal with the grassroots of the party.
Even though Republicans lost control of the House, Senate and White House over his four-year term, CPAC showed Mr. Trump’s star power remains intact with a lot of activists.
The Washington Times/CPAC poll released Sunday showed the allegiance of activists is with the former president after 68% of attendees said they want Mr. Trump to mount a comeback in the 2024 presidential election.
Mr. Trump was the top choice of 55% of attendees, followed by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida at 21%, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, at 4%, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley at 3%.
When Mr. Trump climbed onto the stage, he received a rousing ovation and chants from the crowd sporting MAGA hats and carrying patriotic flags
“Hello CPAC, do you miss me yet?” Mr. Trump said. “Do you miss me?”
• Seth McLaughlin reported from Washington.