(CNSNews.com) – Former President Trump made his return to the political arena in a fired-up speech on Sunday, slamming the five-week-old Biden administration’s record and making clear he has no intention of going away quietly. He stopped short of announcing plans to run again for the White House in 2024.
Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida just two weeks after the U.S. Senate acquitted him of inciting insurrection, Trump pledged to throw his support behind strong conservative candidates, while dismissing by name those he characterized as “Republicans in Name Only.”
But he left hanging the question of whether he envisaged being the party's standard-bearer in the next presidential race.
“Together in the coming years we will carry forward the torch of American liberty, we will lead the conservative movement and the Republican Party back to a totally conclusive victory – and we’ve had tremendous victories, don’t ever forget it,” he said. “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.”
“And I wonder who that will be?” he deadpanned. “I wonder who that will be? Who, who, who will that be? I wonder.”
CPAC’s traditional secret ballot presidential straw poll put Trump in the lead of a list of potential 2024 primary candidates, at 55 percent, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with 21 percent, and Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, with four percent.
Ninety-five percent of respondents said they want the GOP to continue advancing Trump’s agenda and policies.
A second 2024 presidential primary poll, which excluded Trump from the list of potential candidates, was won by DeSantis with 43 percent, followed by Noem with 11 percent. No other name made double digits. (Donald Trump Jr. received eight percent, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seven percent, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas seven percent.)
In his speech, Trump rejected any notion that he has plans to form a new party, questioning the wisdom of splitting the anti-Democratic vote.
“We’re not starting new parties. You know, they kept saying, ‘He’s going to start a brand new party.’ We have the Republican Party. It’s going to unite and be stronger than ever before,” he said. “I am not starting a new party – that was fake news, fake news, no.”
“Wouldn’t that be brilliant? Let’s start a new party, let’s divide our vote so that you can never win. No, we’re not interested in that.”
Trump said President Biden has had “the most disastrous first month of any American president in modern history.”
“Already the Biden administration has proven that they are anti-jobs, anti-family, anti-borders, anti-energy, anti-women and anti-science,” he said.
Evidently unfazed by the criticism he received for his reaction to the declared outcome of November’s election, Trump returned to the issue several times.
After saying Biden’s border and migration policies should already “be enough for the Democratic Party to suffer withering losses in the midterms and to lose the White House decisively four years from now,” he drew loud cheers when he added, “Actually, as you know they just lost the White House but it’s one of those things. But who knows? Who knows? I may even decide to beat them for a third time, okay?”
Trump criticized the Biden administration for three key foreign policy steps which he said been taken without regard to the leverage the U.S. could have applied in each case: easing pressure on the Iranian regime, re-entering the Paris climate accord, and reversing his decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization.
He said the administration had withdrawn “our crippling sanctions on Iran, foolishly giving away all of America’s leverage before negotiations had even begun.”
It should have left the sanctions in place while negotiating, he said, questioning the business savvy of those making the decisions.
The administration has not in fact eased unilateral U.S. sanctions, although it has withdrawn its predecessor’s 2020 determination that U.N. Security Council sanctions had been restored due to the regime’s non-compliance with the nuclear deal.
On what he called the “very unfair and very costly Paris climate accord,” Trump said again that Biden could have made the U.S. return conditional on a better deal, referring to concerns about how large carbon emitters like China, India, and Russia are treated in the agreement.
“In another horrendous surrender he agreed to get back into the World Health Organization, for approximately $500 million a year which is what we were paying,” he said.
Trump recalled that he had withdrawn from the WHO because “they called it [the coronavirus outbreak] badly, they really are puppets for China.”
He said the U.S. had been contributing around $500 million a year to the U.N. health agency, while the much more populous China was paying only $39 million – “because the people that made the deal are stupid.”
(The U.S. has been the WHO’s biggest funder since its creation in 1948, alone accounting most recently for more than 15 percent of the total budget.)
Trump suggested he had been told the U.S. could have returned to the WHO under a deal enabling it to pay the same as China, but had decided against doing so.
He said Biden could have used the promise of U.S. return as leverage to drop contributions to China’s level, but had instead agreed to go back in and continue contributing $500 million.
“What the hell is wrong with them?”