Former President Donald Trump rejected the idea of starting a third political party; and instead teased the idea of a 2024 run in a speech Sunday at a conservative conference.
“I am not starting a new party. That was fake news, no,” Trump told supporters minutes into his speech; that closed the four-day Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida.
“Wouldn’t that be brilliant? Let’s start a new party and let’s divide our vote so that you will never win. No, we’re not interested in that.”
Trump rattled off the accomplishments of his term in the White House, repeated his false claim that he won the 2020 election and added; “Who knows? I may even decide to beat them a third time.”
The speech to CPAC was Trump’s first public appearance since he left office 39 days ago. Since then; he’s kept an uncharacteristically low profile, hampered in large part because he is banned from Twitter; and Facebook in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol that led to his impeachment and subsequent acquittal in the Senate.
In emailed statements and a handful of interviews to friendly outlets, he’s blasted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; eulogized talk show host Rush Limbaugh and made unfounded allegations of election fraud — all while avoiding questions about his future in the party.
His remarks ratified the consensus of the conference that this is not a conservative movement wallowing in in its loss to Democrat Joe Biden; as much as it’s a government-in-waiting, counting down the three years and 11 months for Trump to “Make America Great Again” again.
In a straw poll, 97% of attendees approved of his leadership of the party, 70% want him to run again; and 55% said he was their preferred candidate in 2024. (The other top contenders were Trump loyalists: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, followed by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and Donald Trump Jr.)
Trump’s rousing reception at the most important conservative gathering on the calendar highlights just how much Trump has transformed the movement in just five years.
In 2016, Trump abruptly canceled his appearance at the event amid plans for a walkout from conservatives who questioned his commitment to the cause; and demands that he answer questions from a moderator like the other candidates.
On Sunday, he was the closer of a three-day festival of Trump-flavored conservatism that bore his undeniable imprint.
The conference included at least seven panels credulously discussing Trump’s claims of a stolen 2020 election despite dozens of court rulings finding otherwise.
Major figures from the Trump cabinet — at least, those still loyal to the former president — were given speaking slots: Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer; Acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell and Budget Director Russ Vought.
Prominent conservatives who have left Trump’s orbit were nowhere to be found, including McConnell and his wife; former Trump Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney. Even Trump’s old running mate; former Vice president Mike Pence, declined an invitation.