Former President Donald Trump, giving his first speech in Washington since leaving office, attacked soft-on-crime policies Tuesday for leading to a national wave of violence in many U.S. cities and said police must be allowed to do their jobs.
“Under the Democrat rule, in Democrat-run cities, Democrat-run states and a Democrat-run federal government, the criminals have been given free rein more than ever before. There’s never been a time like this,” Mr. Trump told the America First Policy Institute summit.
He said American streets “are riddled with needles and soaked with the blood of innocent victims.”
“Many of our once great cities from New York to Chicago to LA, where the middle class used to flock to live the American dream, are now war zones, literal war zones,” the former president said.
Mr. Trump called for national concealed carry reciprocity and urged lawmakers to return authority and resources to law enforcement.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Mr. Trump, and he delivered the speech to a crowd of supporters and political allies at a new think tank dedicated to his America First philosophy. Much of his address was devoted to restoring law and order and enforcing the border — public safety policies he pursued in office.
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Republicans are split between those who want him to make another run for the White House and others who would rather see another candidate for president.
Earlier Tuesday in Washington, former Vice President Mike Pence spoke at an event and downplayed any differences with Mr. Trump, who accused Mr. Pence of lacking “courage” to stop the electoral vote count on Jan. 6, 2021.
“I don’t know that our movement is that divided,” Mr. Pence said at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.
“I don’t know that the president and I differ on issues. But we may differ on focus. I truly do believe that elections are about the future.”
According to recent polling, Mr. Trump has the support of most Republican voters, but hearings of the House Jan. 6 select committee looking into the pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol have taken a toll on the former president’s popularity.
A Quinnipiac poll this month shows that 69% of Republicans want Mr. Trump to run in 2024, a decline of 11 points from the 78% in October who said they wanted him to seek another presidential term.
On Tuesday, Mr. Trump referred to the lawmakers on the Democratic-majority committee as “thugs.” He reiterated his belief that the investigation is aimed at preventing him from running for president again.
The 2024 Republican presidential nominee could face off against President Biden, whose approval numbers have spiraled downward. Polls show a majority of Democrats don’t want Mr. Biden to run for another term.
In his speech, Mr. Pence hailed the accomplishments of the “Trump-Pence administration” in installing three Supreme Court justices who made possible the recent ruling that overturned nationwide abortion rights.
“We sent Roe versus Wade to the ash heap of history, where it belongs,” Mr. Pence said. “We save the babies, we’ll save America.”
He also focused on the troubles plaguing the nation under Mr. Biden. He called for Republicans to focus on the future, an apparent reference to Mr. Trump’s continued claims that Democrats stole the 2020 election from him.
“Now, some people may choose to focus on the past, but elections are about the future. And I believe conservatives must focus on the future to win back America,” Mr. Pence said.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence are both eyeing runs for the White House. Mr. Trump lobbed the first attack at his former vice president last month at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference in Nashville, Tennessee, for not intervening in the congressional certification of the presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021.
“Mike Pence had a chance to be great. He had a chance to be, frankly, historic,” Mr. Trump said. “But just like [former Attorney General] Bill Barr and the rest of these weak people, Mike — and I say it sadly because I like him — but Mike did not have the courage to act.”
In Washington on Tuesday, Mr. Trump repeatedly criticized Democrats and the “defund the police” movement for causing lawlessness across the U.S.
“We have to leave our police alone. Every time they do something, they’re afraid they’re going to be destroyed and that their pensions are going to be taken away,” Mr. Trump said. “Let them do their job. Give them back the respect that they deserve.”
He rattled off a list of recent violent crimes in major cities and pointed to Democratic policies as the root of the problem.
“Drugged-out lunatics attack innocent victims at random. Roving mobs of thieves walked into the stores and walk out with whatever merchandise they can carry. They’re left alone. Nobody tells them, ‘Don’t do this. Put it back now,’” he said.
“We are living in such a different country,” Mr. Trump said. “For one primary reason, there is no longer respect of the law, and there certainly is no border. Our country is now a cesspool of crime. We have blood, death and suffering on a scale once unthinkable because of the Democrat Party’s effort to destroy and dismantle law enforcement.”
The America First Policy Institute, founded by senior officials from the Trump administration, was a two-day event that featured a host of prominent conservative figures promoting policies for the next Republican administration.
Speakers focused on plans to confront inflation, establish law and order, develop economic prosperity and promote border security.
The lineup included former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway; former Energy Secretary Rick Perry; Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee; and Reps. Richard Hudson of North Carolina, Claudia Tenney of New York and Byron Donalds of Florida.