ORLANDO (AP): Less than six weeks after leaving office, former President Donald Trump will deliver the closing speech at a conservative conference Sunday as he reasserts himself on the national stage and makes clear he intends to remain a dominant force within the Republican Party.
Aides say Trump will use the speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference to blast his successor, President Joe Biden, and try to cement his status as the party’s undisputed leader going forward despite his loss in November.
“I stand before you today to declare that the incredible journey we began together four years ago is far from over,” Trump will say, according to excepts of his speech released by aides. “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.”
The event so far at a Hyatt hotel in Orlando, Florida, has been a tribute to Trump and Trumpism, complete with a golden statue in his likeness. Speakers, including many potential GOP 2024 hopefuls, have argued the party must embrace the former president and his followers, even after the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. They stand in opposition to others who argue the party must move in a new, less divisive direction after Republicans lost not only the White House but both chambers of Congress in the last elections.
“The least popular (leaders) in our party are the ones who want to erase Donald Trump and Donald Trump’s supporters from our party,” said Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, the chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, during a Saturday panel discussion. “And let me tell you, if that happens, we won’t win back the majority in 2022. We definitely won’t win back the White House in 2024 if we erase Donald Trump.”
On Biden, Trump is expected to deliver a sharp rebuke of what he will frame as the new administration’s first month of failures, including Biden’s approach to immigration and his decision to halt construction of Trump’s southern border wall, his foreign policy posture and his handling of the economy as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
“Joe Biden has had the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history,” he will say.
It is highly unusual for past American presidents to publicly criticize their successors so soon after leaving office. Ex-presidents typically step out of the spotlight for at least a while; Barack Obama was famously seen kitesurfing on vacation after he departed, while George W. Bush said he believed Obama “deserves my silence” and took up painting.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki brushed off the expected criticism. “We’ll see what he says, but our focus is certainly not on what President Trump is saying at CPAC,” she told reporters.