Former President Donald Trump delivered his first public remarks since leaving office at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday, pushing back on the notion he might start a third party while hinting at, but declining to announce explicitly, a 2024 White House bid.
Trump closed out the 2021 CPAC, which took place in Orlando, Florida, with an impassioned speech that lasted for about an hour and a half. He decried many of President Joe Biden’s policies, including an indirect shot at the Equality Act.
“Do you miss me yet?” Trump asked the crowd as he began the speech. “I stand before you today to declare that the incredible journey we begun together … is far from being over.”
While polling in recent weeks has suggested strong support among Republicans should the former president create a new political party, he quickly dispelled the rumors in his speech.
“I am not starting a new party,” he declared.
Trump expressed hope that Democrats would “suffer withering losses in the midterms” and “lose the White House decisively four years from now,” as the crowd erupted into applause.
After alleging that “they just lost the White House,” he hinted that he “may even decide to beat them for a third time,” a reference to his controversial claim that targeted voter fraud cost him the 2020 election.
However, the former president did not definitively say that he would undertake a White House bid in 2024.
Trump spoke of a “historic struggle for America’s future, America’s culture and America’s institutions, borders and most cherished principles.” The former president told the crowd that “our security,” “prosperity,” and “very identity as Americans is at stake like perhaps at no other time.”
Still, he remained optimistic about the future.
“We will be victorious, and America will be stronger and greater than ever before,” he vowed.
“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."
He assured the crowd that he would fight “right by your side.”
At the end of his speech, the 74-year-old confidently asserted that “a Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House” in four years, adding, “I wonder who that will be.”
The former president spent most of his speech criticizing Biden’s policies while touting his own record.
“We all knew that the Biden administration was going to be bad. But none of us even imagined just how bad they would be and how far left they would go,” he said. “Joe Biden has had the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history.”
Trump described Biden’s administration as “anti-jobs, anti-family, anti-borders, anti-energy, anti-women and anti-science,” lamenting that “in just one short month, we have gone from America first to America last.”
The former president specifically singled out his successor’s immigration policy, foreign policy, energy policy and environmental policy as causes for concern.
Additionally, the president mentioned his administration’s effort to manufacture coronavirus vaccines in record time, known as Operation Warp Speed, maintaining that the new administration did not deserve credit for its success.
He slammed Biden’s failure to ensure that American children are back in school after many schools shut down in-person learning as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, concluding that by neglecting to demand that schools reopen for in-person learning, “Joe Biden sold out America’s children to the teachers’ unions.”
“Joe Biden has shamefully betrayed America’s youth and he is cruelly keeping our children locked in their homes, no reason for it whatsoever,” he said. “On behalf of the moms, dads and children of America, I call on Joe Biden to get the schools open and get them open now.”
Trump also argued that Biden and the Democrats are pursuing policies that would “destroy women’s sports,” a reference to legislation that recently passed the House of Representatives that would make discrimination based on gender identity illegal under federal law.
“Young girls and women are incensed that they are now being forced to compete against those who are biological males,” he said. “It’s not good for women. It’s not good for women’s sports, which worked so long and so hard to get to where they are.”
Trump warned that “women’s sports as we know it will die.”
“What coach … wants to recruit a young woman to compete if her record can easily be broken by somebody who was born a man?” he asked.
“The task for our movement and our party is to stand up to this destructive agenda with confidence and with resolve. The future of the Republican Party is as a party that defends the social, economic and cultural interests and values of working American families of every race, color and creed.”
Later in the speech, the president agreed with the crowd when they chanted, “You won!” He outlined steps he contends that the country needs to take to establish a more secure election system: “We need one Election Day, not 45, 30, one day.”
“The only people that should be allowed to vote by mail are people that can be proven to be either very sick or out of the country or military where they can’t do it,” he remarked.
He called mail-in voting “very corrupt” and said there must be “voter ID.”
“We need universal signature matching,” he continued, adding there needs to be a “100% requirement to verify the citizenship of every person who votes.”
He also called for “chain of custody protections for every ballot.”
The former president laid out the values and beliefs of the Republican Party, which included the idea that “this is an exceptional nation blessed by God.”
“We are committed to defending innocent life and to upholding the Judeo-Christian values of our founders and of our founding,” he added. “We embrace free thought. We stand up to political correctness, and we reject left-wing lunacy. And in particular, we reject cancel culture.”
Towards the end of his speech, Trump criticized the senators and House members who voted to convict him in his second impeachment trial by name, which elicited boos from the audience.
He urged Republican voters to “get rid of them all,” warning that if Republicans do not stick together, “the RINOs that we’re surrounded with will destroy the Republican Party and the American worker and will destroy our country itself.”
“I will be actively working to elect strong, tough and smart Republican leaders,” he announced. “We want Republican leaders who are loyal to the voters and who will work proudly for the vision that I’ve laid out today.”
Shortly before Trump took the stage, the results of the 2021 CPAC presidential straw poll were announced.
With the 2024 Republican presidential primaries three years away, 55% of respondents said they would support Trump as the Republican nominee, while 21% said they would support Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. About 4% expressed support for South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.
Both DeSantis and Noem spoke at CPAC and have received praise from conservatives for taking a less restrictive approach during the coronavirus pandemic compared to other governors.
Only 68% of respondents said they would want Trump to run again in 2024.
If Trump decides not to run in 2024, DeSantis would win the support of a plurality (43%) of conservatives gathered at CPAC. Noem came in second place by registering 11% support, while Donald Trump Jr. secured 8% support. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas rounded out the top five, each securing 7% support.