Donald Trump is set to deliver a marathon speech railing against his political opponents, laying out the direction of the Republican party, and doing everything short of announcing a bid for president in 2024.
The former president’s keynote address to wrap up the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orland, Florida, on Sunday will mark his first major speech since leaving office in January.
Mr Trump – whose cult of personality has come to dominate the GOP even after his departure from the White House, as media interviews with numerous CPAC attendees have underscored – is expected to inch “right up to the line of announcing another campaign” without doing so, Fox News has reported.
The former president’s team has released several excerpts of his speech to various news outlets to generate publicity and anticipation for his remarks.
“I stand before you today to declare that the incredible journey we began together four years ago is far from over,” Mr Trump is expected to say at the beginning of his speech on Sunday, NBC News has reported. “We are gathered this afternoon to talk about the future — the future of our movement, the future of our party, and the future of our beloved country.”
Mr Trump plans to lay into his successor’s record over the last six weeks, indicating strong opposition to Joe Biden’s executive actions rolling back Trump-era immigration policies, nixing the Keystone XL pipeline project, and focusing on, in Mr Trump’s words, “identity politics.”
Perhaps most importantly, Mr Trump’s speech will put the kibosh on any chatter that he could break away from the GOP to form his own party.
While polls have found that most Americans who voted for Trump have said they would join a hypothetical offshoot party founded by the former president, that majority was not overwhelming. Deep divisions remain within the Republican party over how to move forward in the aftermath of his presidency.
“We are not starting new parties, and we will not be dividing our power and our strength. Instead, we will be united and strong like never before,” Mr Trump is expected to say, according to an excerpt from a draft obtained by Fox News.
Mr Trump is expected to whitewash the divisions within his party by casting them merely as differences between individual politicians in the nation’s capital and the rest of the conservative electorate.
“The only division is between a handful of Washington DC establishment political hacks, and everybody else all over the country,” Mr Trump will say, according to NBC News’ draft excerpts.
The former president is expected to single out some of his perceived political enemies within the GOP, such as Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, and others.
Ms Cheney – the third highest ranking House Republican and the most prominent of the 10 Republicans in that chamber who voted to impeach Mr Trump in January over his role in the 6 January Capitol insurrection – said last week of Mr Trump’s upcoming appearance at CPAC, “I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.”
“There’s a 99.99% chance Liz Cheney gets brought up,” a senior adviser to Mr Trump told CBS News in anticipation of Sunday’s speech.
It remains unclear whether Mr Trump will sling his intraparty mud as part of his prepared remarks from the teleprompter or amid one of his trademark off-the-cuff digressions – defining features from his 2016 and 2020 campaign rallies.
The first three days of the annual conservative confab demonstrated that even after Mr Trump’s 2020 election loss to Mr Biden, he still commands utmost loyalty within the GOP.
The CPAC schedule has devoted at least seven panel discussions to amplifying false claims about the 2020 presidential election, not counting the speeches from high-profile Republicans and right-wing figures raising questions about “election integrity” and promoting the lie that the election was “stolen” from him.
Speakers have said their concerns are about “protecting elections” and ensuring “election integrity” but they have promoted the same baseless, legally dubious complaints that the former president and his campaign have argued for months leading up to the deadly riot at the Capitol on 6 January, as his supporters stormed into the halls of Congress to stop the certification of the votes.
Among the 2020 election-deniers who have already given speeches at CPAC this weekend are: Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, Donald Trump Jr, Congressmen Matt Gaetz of Florida and Mo Brooks of Alabama, and Trump campaign legal adviser Cleta Mitchell.
Others with an eye towards the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, for instance – attended CPAC but have not promoted the president’s “big lie” about election fraud.
Still, Mr Cotton told Fox News, Mr Trump deserves credit for recalibrating GOP priorities and getting lawmakers more in lockstep with their constituents.
“One thing that President Trump has done over the last five years is kind of reset the view of a lot of Republican politicians and help them understand the views of Republican voters,” the Arkansas senator said. “He helped reset the Republican agenda. We now are putting Americans first. We’re standing up to China. We are standing up for our trade interests to make sure that we’re not just giving away our prosperity.”