If anybody thought the January 6 insurrection and the ensuing second impeachment trial might’ve chastened Donald Trump, his CPAC speech on Sunday should have disabused them of that notion — and of any thoughts the former president would ever accept the reality that his loss to President Joe Biden was fair and legitimate.
Trump’s first speech since leaving the White House was heavy on “the big lie” — the false and long-debunked claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him — that inspired the deadly insurrection aimed at overturning his election loss.
“I may even decide to beat [Democrats] for a third time,” Trump said early on during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), implying his loss to Biden was illegitimate while teasing the possibility of running again in 2024.
That remark was met with a standing ovation.
And there was plenty more where that came from.
At one point, Trump claimed that “had we had a fair election, the results would’ve been much different” — even though election security officials from his own administration have confirmed Biden’s victory was the result of a free and fair election.
“The election was rigged,” he said later, before attacking the Supreme Court for not overthrowing the results for him, with language eerily similar to the way he attacked then-Vice President Mike Pence during his speech just before the January 6 insurrection.
“They didn’t have the guts or the courage to make the right decision,” Trump said.
Trump’s lie about the election being rigged was met with chants of “You won! You won!”
Later, Trump claimed “it is undeniable” that election rules were “illegally changed.” But court after court rejected Trump’s so-called evidence that something was amiss during last November’s election, including as recently as last week.
It’s tempting to dismiss this rhetoric as the unhinged rantings of a man out of power who’s whiling away his days at his private club in Florida. But Trump may yet return to the White House. A straw poll taken at CPAC found him to be the candidate attendees most hoped to see run in 2024, by more than two to one over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, even if the fact that only 68 percent of respondents said Trump should run again was a bit disappointing considering the conference was basically a weekend-long celebration of him.
But even if Trump is never again an elected official, the danger is that, as they did on January 6, Trump’s more fervent adherents might take him seriously and target a government their leader describes as illegitimate with violence.
Trump really only knows how to give one speech
Trump’s shameless and relentless pushing of the big lie was the main takeaway from his CPAC speech. The rest of it was basically a barely modified version of the stump speech he delivered around the country last fall, with a couple additions.
One was an entire section devoted to transphobia. The purported dangers of trans women playing sports has been a topic of conversation among Republican lawmakers and on Fox News, and Trump incorporated them into his speech, saying “we must protect the integrity of women’s sports” to a huge standing ovation.
Trump also echoed one of the major themes of CPAC by railing against “cancel culture.”
But unsurprisingly, the former president seemed particularly animated while putting Republicans who voted for his impeachment or removal from office on blast by name.
“Get rid of ’em all,” he said, to cheers from the audience. (The irony of Trump saying this at a conference whose theme was “America Uncanceled” was apparently lost on them.)
And Trump also had harsh words for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, suggesting he would’ve lost his Senate seat last November without Trump’s endorsement. Notably, CPAC attendees responded to the mention of McConnell’s name with boos.
While he teased a 2024 run, Trump didn’t commit to following through. Instead, he portrayed himself as a kingmaker of sorts who will work next year to make sure “America-first conservatives” get elected.
In a nod to how lucrative fundraising off his refusal to concede has been, Trump advised his fans that “there’s only one way to contribute to our efforts to elect America-first Republican conservatives and in turn to make America great again, and that’s through Save America PAC and donaldjtrump.com.”
Through all of this, Trump barely mentioned policy, aside from doing his familiar bits: fear-mongering about “caravans” of immigrants coming to the US, and trying to take credit for the development of coronavirus vaccines.
That Trump focused primarily on grievances about the election — and the Republicans who purportedly betrayed him — was no accident. These are the things that really matter to Trump. And if he continues to radicalize his followers with lies about power being stolen while seeking revenge against those he perceives as wronging him, then so be it, as Trump’s big lies about the election are clearly impervious to correction and will be the core of his political identity going forward.
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