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Trump trolls Ron DeSantis in CPAC speech


NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. – Donald Trump seemed to have Gov. Ron DeSantis in mind here Saturday night during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Addressing an audience of dedicated fans at the annual conservative rally, the former president called out Republicans who in the past favored cuts to rights programs.

“We don’t go back to people who want to destroy our great social security system,” Trump said in his speech. “Even some in our own party.”

Trump then added timidly, “I wonder who that might be.”

He never mentioned the governor of Florida by name. But DeSantis, a former congressman, recently made headlines for his withdrawal from past votes and his comments in favor of raising the retirement age and privatizing Social Security and Medicare. disease. Trump’s subtle contrast comes as the two Republicans are on an apparent collision course in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Polls have consistently shown DeSantis as Trump’s strongest potential contender for the nomination.

Trump, in his nearly two-hour speech, also called on Republicans to once and for all give up the George W. Bush-era conservatism that preceded his political rise — a rebuke from a protesting GOP establishment. his interest in leaving Trump.

Prior to his arrival, Trump argued, the party was run by “freaks” and “fools.”

I am your warrior. I am your vigilante. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your punishment.

Former President Donald Trump

“We will never go back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and Jeb Bush,” Trump said, naming a former Speaker of the House, the architect of former President George W. Bush’s political career and Bush’s younger brother, who lost to Trump in the 2016 primaries.

Reminders to the Bush family harken back to 2016, when Trump pointed to misinformation leading up to President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and mocked Jeb Bush’s candidacy as “weak energy”. They also served as another thinly veiled arrow in DeSantis’ direction. Jeb Bush, himself a former governor of Florida, has praised DeSantis in interviews.

Trump, who said without evidence that the 2020 election was stolen from him, repeated his skepticism about how states conduct elections. But he also offered his strongest endorsement of mail-in voting — a process he has been highly critical of in the past, much to the dismay of other Republicans.

“All Republican governors,” Trump said, “should immediately switch to paper ballots, day voting, and voter ID.”

“But until that day,” he added, “Republicans must compete using any legal means to win. That means flooding the left with mail-in votes, early votes and Election Day votes. . We have to do it. We have to change our thinking.”

The scene at this year’s CPAC was overwhelmingly Trump-friendly, the hallways lined with backers decked out in Trump or MAGA gear. The former president easily won the conference’s annual poll, beating DeSantis by more than 40 points. His victory was hardly a surprise, given the absence of DeSantis and most other announced or potential 2024 hopefuls. The event, once a larger forum for conservative activists and donors, was widely rebranded around Trump’s personality-driven politics of antagonism and grievance.

DeSantis instead attended a private donor retreat for the Club for Growth, a conservative organization that has distanced itself from Trump, and prioritized trips to Texas and California to speak to GOP groups.

Speaking to reporters ahead of his CPAC speech, Trump deflected questions about DeSantis’ potential candidacy by talking about his own record as president.

“I’ve always had a good relationship with him,” Trump said when asked by NBC News if he would consider DeSantis as his running mate. “But it’s far too early to talk about that.”

Trump’s speech included broad and vague promises if elected in 2024, some of them rooted in the culture wars surrounding the school curriculum and transgender rights that DeSantis fought in Florida. Trump called for the “direct election” of principals, saying parents should have the power to fire them. His remarks were heavy with insults.

“Our enemies,” he said at one point, “are madmen and maniacs.”

Trump has also sworn political revenge against these enemies.

“If you put me back in the White House, their reign is over,” he said. “In 2016 I said, ‘I am your voice’. Today I add: I am your warrior. I am your vigilante. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.

Trump’s speech on CPAC, like others he’s delivered during this campaign, painted a grim picture of America on the brink.

“This is the final battle. They know it. I know this. You know it. Everybody knows this is it,” Trump said. “Either they win or we win. And if they win, we no longer have a country.

Trump has repeatedly declared the country “on the brink of World War III” and argued that he was the one to bring it back to peace and prosperity.

Trump has spent considerable time lamenting the government’s numerous investigations into him, from the classified documents case to the investigation of Trump’s actions around the 2020 election before a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia. Trump tore up the district attorney there, as well as the grand jury foreman who discussed the proceedings in recent interviews.

“It’s totally out of control,” Trump said. The district attorney, he added, “has a kangaroo court focused on a perfect phone call I made while his jury foreman, a rather quirky young woman, was walking around doing media interviews. and say exactly what was going on”.

Trump’s speech capped a four-day conference in which he and his closest allies were by far the biggest crowd pleaser. The few declared or potential rivals who were present – including his former UN ambassador, Nikki Haley – were greeted with an inhospitable mix of heckling and indifference.

The absences opened up more space for the Trump fandom to reign. Outside the main hall where he spoke, supporters gathered in a line early, chanting “Trump! Asset! Trump!” and singing the national anthem. And the dozens of speeches that preceded Trump’s were a who’s who of the MAGA world, including Donald Trump Jr., Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Kari Lake , a prominent election denier who lost her bid for governor of Arizona last year.

“I came here because I support Trump. He deserves the chance to finish what he started,” said Melissa Elliott of Richmond, Va.

CPAC, she said, was “one of the few places today where you can find like-minded people in one room.”

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.