HomePoliticsTrump returns to the stage of his tarnished legacy

Trump returns to the stage of his tarnished legacy

Trump received a standing ovation in a ballroom packed with Republican lawmakers, former cabinet officials, administration officials, donors and supporters, before delivering a speech that focused on crime and his plans for public safety. He veered into controversy over transgender athletes, immigration, and China, outlining a proposal to create tent towns on the outskirts of major US cities where the government would relocate homeless people from the nation.

But Trump perked up more when he spoke about what even some allies wish he’d put aside: his false claims of a “stolen” election, which fueled the events of Jan. 6. He promised that the House committee investigating his actions that day would not. spoil him or the political movement represented by many in the room.

“They really want to hurt me so that I can’t work for you guys anymore, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Trump said of the committee’s Jan. 6 work. He was greeted with a standing ovation from the room. “If I stayed home and took it easy, the persecution of Donald Trump would stop immediately. He would stop. But that’s not what I’m going to do.”

That statement, from a former president whose congressional leaders from his own party denounced him just 18 months ago, was met with chants of “four more years!”

The two-day summit, which concluded with Trump’s speech, was a gathering of sorts for the “America First” team working to advance the Trump administration’s post-White House agenda. But it wasn’t just a homecoming. It was a test of what kind of reception a Trump revival tour might receive in DC proper.

However, his speech wasn’t the only big event in town featuring a prominent figure from the Trump era.

Earlier Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence, who was not on the AFPI agenda, spoke at the conservative Young America’s Foundation. He created a split-screen moment for the two key figures on January 6, as Washington is still considering the deadly day.

For those who gathered at the Marriott Marquis to hear Trump speak, the rivalry between Trump and Pence was shrugged off and Jan. 6 was either a “political witch hunt” or a mere afterthought.

“I don’t know how deep that gap is, I think Pence missed his chance at greatness and trustworthiness for me,” said Gregg Seymour, a pastor from Las Vegas who flew in for the two-day event. “Do I think people should have stormed the Capitol? Absolutely not. But I think much more has been done than burning different cities. No one talks about how that was a tragedy,” said Amber Colville, a Mississippi doctor who came to hear discussions about health care and Trump’s speech.

Instead, attendees were hopeful that Trump might soon announce another candidacy, though many said they were eager to hear him outline a more forward-looking vision, something Trump’s close allies have also urged him to do. In his speech, Trump painted a picture of America in decline, depicting horrific crimes in cities across the country. He called for hiring more police, bringing back controversial “stop and frisk” policies and giving drug dealers the death penalty. He also called on Congress to pass a “historic package on public health, public safety and mental health reforms,” ​​saying the federal government should protect the right to self-defense.

“We need an all-out effort to defeat crime in America and defeat it hard and be tough and nasty and mean if we have to,” Trump said.

In his own speech in Washington on Tuesday, Pence maintained, as he has before, that he “couldn’t be more proud of the record of the Trump-Pence administration.”

But when asked what “appears to be a divide” between him and Trump during a question-and-answer session, Pence cast the former president as a politician who may be focused on the past, an implicit rebuke of his concern about the 2020 election. .

“I don’t know if the president and I differ on the issues, but we may differ on the approach,” Pence said. “I truly believe that elections are about the future and that it is absolutely essential, at a time when so many Americans are hurting, so many families are struggling, that we don’t give in to the temptation to look back. But I think the time has come for us to deliver a bold and positive agenda to take America back. And I will continue to carry that message across the country.”

It is on this ground that Pence has been cautiously drawing a contrast to Trump. On Tuesday, he called the midterm elections a historic clash between “unified conservative action” and “aggressive liberalism” on the left.

Pence trails far behind Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the early 2024 primary polls, seen by some traditional Republicans as a nasty Trump appendage, but many Trump hardliners see him as disloyal for his resistance to Trump’s efforts to nullify the 2020 election.

Pence, despite previously saying there is “almost no idea more anti-American than the notion” that he could have nullified the election, has been reluctant to answer questions about Jan. 6. However, two of his top White House aides recently testified. to a federal grand jury investigating matters related to the unrest on Capitol Hill.

But retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who served as Pence’s national security adviser and now works at AFPI, called discussion of a giant gap between Pence and Trump “overblown.”

“Washington is a political city, you have to expect it. It is what it is,” Kellogg said.

Marc Lotter, the AFPI communications director who also worked for Pence, believed that both men were actually presenting a similar political vision. “They’re talking about America First policies in their own voice and their own manner, but they’re talking about the same thing, rebuilding the success that we had in the Trump-Pence administration and pushing it forward,” Lotter said.

With Trump’s return, so did a family circus. Outside the Marriott, protesters shouted and waved flags calling Trump a “fascist.” After the speech, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) taunted them from the hotel entrance.

The ballroom was packed with lawmakers like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Reps. Elise Stefanik (RN.Y.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), former top Trump administration officials like Larry Kudlow and small business administrator Linda McMahon, and former Trump White House aides and campaign staff. Also in the audience were Republican VIPs like RNC President Ronna McDaniel, top Trump advisers like Stephen Miller, and others now working with AFPI, like Kellyanne Conway and Brooke Rollins.

On the sidelines, attendees reminisced about their time at the White House. Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is running for governor in Arkansas, soberly recounted a Christmas trip to Iraq to visit soldiers and joked about her warm welcome with the conservative crowd here in DC.

“It’s very exciting to be in Washington and to have people cheer you on when you’re behind a podium,” Sanders said.

Eric Ueland, who served as Trump’s White House director of legislative affairs, said the summit sometimes felt like a White House meeting.

“It’s great to see people and share war stories, but now also try to figure out well, where do we go next?” Ueland said.

David Siders contributed to this report

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