the Conservative Political Action Conference after taking the stage more than an hour after his scheduled start time. “A lot of things going on.”
Trump’s attacks on other Republicans – and his support of primary challengers to some GOP lawmakers – threaten to divide the party further as it tries to regain control of Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024.
Before the speech, Republicans said the party can win elections in 2022 and 2024 only by asking voters to agree with them on issues, not on Trump. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the GOP should not put one man on “a pedestal.”
his successor Joe Biden, claiming he has had “the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history.” Trump called on Biden to support reopening schools, despite the pandemic, and stand up to China and its trade practices.
White House officials said neither they nor Biden would comment much on Trump’s speech because they would be busy working.
“I wouldn’t say he’s thought a lot about the former president’s visit – I was going to say ‘performance,’ maybe that’s appropriate – at CPAC,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
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Sarah Longwell, a Trump critic and executive director of the Republican Accountability Project, called Sunday’s speech a “boring, warmed-over version of his greatest hits.”
The only “newish” things, she said, “were that Trump will continue to claim the election was stolen, work to unseat Republicans who voted against him on impeachment, and that he plans to freeze the 2024 field by teasing a run.”
Some of those Republicans have urged the party to move past Trump, citing his role in the insurrection and calling him a divisive leader who would drag down the party to more defeats.
“I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party, or the country,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., whom Trump condemned in his speech as a “war-monger.”
Cheney and like-minded Republicans said Trump’s lies about the election provoked the mob on Jan. 6, and could provoke another attack in the future.
Beyond occasional written statements and brief phone-in interviews on cable television, Trump has laid low since leaving office, especially during the Senate impeachment trial.
The Senate acquitted Trump on charges he incited the riot because prosecutors could not muster the two-thirds vote needed for conviction. Fifty-seven of the 100 senators voted for Trump’s conviction,including the seven Republicans singled out by Trump.
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Shortly before Trump’s speech, one CPAC speaker – Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio – told the crowd Trump is “the leader of the conservative movement” and “the leader of the Republican Party.” Delegates gave those lines a standing ovation.
The attacks on Biden by his immediate predecessor are unique in the modern era. Other ex-presidents have criticized their successors, but none has done it as early in the new president’s first term as Trump.
Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, an impeachment supporter. (“That’s another beauty,” Trump said of Gonzalez during the CPAC speech.)
Denver Riggleman, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who opposes Trump, said the former president will probably wait to see “how his mini-Trumps” fare in 2022 before deciding whether he will run again in 2024.
Riggleman said Trump will aggressively attack critics while building a “cult of personality” within a Republican Party on the brink of civil war.
“You’ve got people who are loyal to Trump against people who are loyal to the Constitution,” Riggleman said.
Some Democrats would welcome Trump’s return to politics. Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Trump’s reemergence would be a gift to Democrats, helping them raise money and defeat GOP election opponents in 2022 and 2024.
“Oh, he’s a hot messy gift,” Harrison told MSNBC.
Others said Trump’s speech will reinforce his domination of the Republican Party. Joe Walsh, a former GOP congressman and conservative critic of Trump, said, “It’s his party, and he knows it.”
“We all underestimate his hold on the party,” Walsh said. “The next four years are his, to do whatever he wants.”