Trump targets disloyal Republicans, repeats election lies and hints at 2024 run

A straw poll showed 55 per cent would vote for Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race.
A straw poll showed 55 per cent would vote for Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Former US President Donald Trump on Sunday (Feb 28) hinted at a possible run for president again in 2024, attacked President Joe Biden, and repeated his fraudulent claims that he won the 2020 election in his first major appearance since leaving the White House nearly six weeks ago.

Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, Mr Trump vowed to help Republicans try to regain majorities – lost during his presidency – in the US House of Representatives and Senate in 2022 congressional elections and dangled himself as a possibility for president in 2024.  

“With your help, we will take back the House, we will win the Senate and then a Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House. I wonder who will that be?” he said, smiling. “Who, who, who will that be, I wonder.”

Mr Trump’s weeks away from Washington do not appear to have dimmed his anger at Republicans who voted to impeach or convict in a failed congressional effort to hold him responsible for inciting a deadly attack on the US Capitol on Jan 6. 

He singled out several such Republicans by name, like Senators Mitt Romney and Pat Toomey and House lawmakers Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and suggested he would support candidates who opposed them in Republican primaries. 

“Get rid of ‘em all,” he thundered.

Mr Trump repeated lies he has told about his Nov 3 presidential election loss to Mr Biden, and offered a withering critique of his Democratic successor’s first weeks in office.

“They just lost the White House,” the Republican former president said after criticising Mr Biden’s handling of border security. “But who knows, who knows, I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”

Mr Trump and his allies spent two months denying his election defeat, and claiming without evidence it was the result of widespread voter fraud, before his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan 6 seeking to disrupt congressional certification of Mr Biden’s win.

A civil war has erupted within the Republican Party with establishment figures like Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell eager to put Mr Trump in the rearview mirror and others, like Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham, believing the party’s future depends on the energy of the pro-Trump conservative base.  

Mr Trump declared the Republican Party united behind him, with opposition coming only from “a handful of Washington, DC, political hacks.”

When he mentioned Mr McConnell’s name, the crowd booed.

He said he had no plans to try to launch a third party, an idea he has discussed with advisers in the past couple of months.

“We’re not starting new parties. We have the Republican Party. It’s going to be united and be stronger than ever before.  I am not starting a new party,” he said.  

In a straw poll, 55 per cent of CPAC conference participants said they would vote for Mr Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential nominating race. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis came in second at 21 per cent.

Without Mr Trump, Mr DeSantis led the field with 43 percent, and other potential Republican candidates had single digits.  

But not everyone supported Mr Trump. A separate question on the poll asked whether Mr Trump should run again in 2024 and it led to a mixed result, with 68 per cent saying he should run and 32 per cent saying opposed or having no opinion.  

“It’s tough to get seven out of 10 to agree on anything,” pollster Jim McLaughlin told CPAC in explaining away the results.  

Still, Mr Trump fervour at the four-day CPAC event was so strong that Mr Trump’s eldest son, Mr Donald Trump Jr, declared it “T-PAC” and participants rolled out a golden statue of the former president. 

Mr Trump’s flirtation with another run could freeze the Republican field for 2024 as other potential candidates try to decide whether they will have to compete against him. Many of those 2024 possible candidates spoke during the CPAC event. 

The Biden White House dismissed Mr Trump’s speech. 

“While the GOP casts about for a path forward, President Biden is going to remain laser-focused on crushing the virus, re-opening schools, and getting Americans back to work,” White House spokesman Michael Gwin said after the speech.

An hour into his speech, Mr Trump dove deeply into his unfounded claims of election fraud, going against the advice of confidants who believe he needs to look to the future. 

“We have a very sick and corrupt electoral process that has to be fixed immediately. This election was rigged,” Mr Trump said. “And the Supreme Court and other courts didn’t want to do anything about it.”

“You won! You won!” the crowd shouted.

Mr Trump’s campaign and his supporters brought dozens of failed lawsuits attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which Biden won by more than seven million votes.

In the short term, he is making plans to set up a super PAC political organisation to support candidates who mirror his policies, an adviser said.  

He sought to position himself as the lead critic of the new president, including on immigration and security along the US border with Mexico, and the slow reopening of schools closed due to the pandemic. 

“Joe Biden has had the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history,” Mr Trump said.  

Recent Gallup polls have given Mr Biden a job approval rating well past 50 per cent. Trump never achieved above 49 per cent.