Donald Trump made his first public appearance since leaving office at the Conservative Political Action Conference. As expected, the speech was full of Trump-style quips. His opening question of ‘Do you miss me?’ perfectly sums up his mood. He missed big crowds, he missed chanting, he missed being the centre of attention but most of all, he missed making headlines, and this speech certainly made headlines. The overall message I got from Trumps hour and a half at the CPAC was that he isn’t going anywhere. Whilst he himself may not be back in the White House in 2024, if it is a Republican winner, he is going to be the reason they got there. He believes, and many are starting to agree, that the Republicans are the party of Trump. He frequently referred to the Republican Party as ‘our party’ and listed a Republican identity as one that aligns with his policies; strong boarders, law and order, the 2nd Amendment and the ‘forgotten people’. He is blurring and interweaving the lines between Republicanism and Trumpism. He dismissed any rumours of him starting a new party claiming it was ‘fake news’ designed to split the Republican party. Trump appears to believe he has taken the Republican party under a Trumpian umbrella.
Trump pointed out a number of threats facing America, from China to Biden, his list was long and detailed. However, he brought out a new strand of attack, one that the CPAC made central to their convention, Cancel Culture. Trump appears to believe he has been ‘cancelled’, his ban from social media has clearly stung him. He talked of how the ‘radical left’ has wrongfully silenced him and that he is now both member to and fighting for the ‘Silent Majority’. He is trying to form an association with the Democrats and cancel culture, a term that is becoming increasingly stigmatised.
Immigration took up a large proportion of Trump’s speech. It was his first big topic and was then interwoven throughout the rest of the speech. The Wall was an especially prominent feature. The Biden administration immediately suspended funding to the wall and is refusing to finish off ‘little sections’ according to Trump. I think this has personally infuriated Trump. The Wall was a fundamental part of his 2016 campaign and is now part of his physical legacy. I think the Wall serves as a substantial reminder of his politics and its existence enshrines his political mantra into immigration. For Trump, the wall represents his immigration ideology as a whole and is desperate to make it permanent and most of all complete. After all, no one wants a half-established legacy.
Interestingly enough, the Vaccine gained little response from the CPAC crowd. When Trump first referred to Covid-19 as the ‘China Virus’ it successfully conjured booing amid chants of ‘USA’. He then went on to take credit for the vaccine rollout and celebrated the supposed success of ‘Operation Warpspeed’, an initiative spearheaded by his administration to get vaccines pre-made and widely distributed quickly. However, this failed to get much applause. There seemed to be little interest in his involvement in the vaccines. I think the chances of this being because CPAC attendees not thinking he was instrumental in vaccine production are slim. Instead, the muted response represents the conventions general stance on Coronavirus vaccines. Trump has always flirted with the idea that Covid-19 was not dangerous. He was reluctant to endorse masks and despite being vaccinated in January in the White House, he never publicly acknowledged it. Trump drove a wedge between social distancing measures and constitutional rights and tangled the issue of education with appropriate pandemic response, which polarised American parents. He created a hierarchy of societal needs in which coronavirus responses were placed at the bottom. Therefore, Trump can’t use vaccines as a tool to gather support because he has downplayed the threat of the virus to his support base so much. The CPAC crowd do not consider vaccines the silver bullet that they are as they undervalue the threat of the Covid-19. Trump can’t be the saviour to an unthreatening enemy.
Energy was always going to be pivotal in this speech after the harrowing winter storm in Texas last month. Trump, extraordinarily, accused the Biden administration of being ‘anti-science’ in their pursuit for green energy and called out Biden for trying to end fracking. He used energy as a turntable from which he spun into an array of topics, the Iran nuclear deal, energy independence and climate change. He criticised Biden for re-entering the Paris Climate deal, although was careful to criticise the economic side of the deal rather than its objectives. Trump moved on to an abstract attack against windmills which he said ‘kills the birds’, a downside he appears to believe are worse than the effects of fracking.
What is perhaps most interesting about Trump’s speech was that he left his ambitions for 2024 extremely open-ended. He didn’t rule out running for 2024, suggesting he might have to beat the Democrats ‘for the third time’. However, I don’t think that is what Trump seemed most keen on. I believe Trump will take on a backseat from frontline politics and instead become the most politically influential man through lobbying or super PAC’s. He spoke about how he was going to work to get ‘American first Republicans’ into offices and push for a greater integration of ‘Judaio-Christian values’ into government. He openly talked about ‘Trumpism’ as the tribe of ‘great deals’ and clearly believes that it is still popular. During a chant of ‘we love you,’ he questioned if ‘anyone ever said that to Ronald Reagan?’, one of the highest polling Republican presidents of all time. He began his purge of Republican enemies by listing those who voted for his impeachment and attacked RHINO Republicans as ‘Republicans in name only’. It is noteworthy that he defended Mitch McConnell, calming a chorus of ‘boos’ upon mentioning his name, by crediting him for an easy win in Kentucky. Trump finished his speech by posing the question ‘I wonder who it will be’ when predicting a ‘Triumphant return to the White House’. He may have been talking about himself or perhaps he meant a return of Trumpian politics under a different name. Trump was intentionally vague, he asked for donations to DonaldJTrump.com, but didn’t specify how those funds would be utilised. He has left a lot of doors open, whilst I don’t think he will run for office again, I believe he will be one of the most influential political forces in the 2024 election.