Former President Trump on Tuesday returned to Washington, D.C., for the first time since he departed the White House under a cloud of controversy, teasing out a vision for a Republican-controlled government as he nears a decision on running for president again in 2024.
“This November, the people are going to vote to stop the destruction of our country, and they’re going to vote to rescue America’s future,” Trump said. “I’m here before you to begin to talk about what we must do to achieve that future when we win a triumphant victory in 2022 and when a Republican president takes back the White House in 2024, which I strongly believe will happen.”
Trump smiled as the crowd applauded. But one of his largest applause lines of the afternoon came later, when he tiptoed closer to signaling his intentions for another White House bid.
Trump claimed he had won “a second time,” referring to the 2020 election that he lost to President Biden.
“That’s going to be a story for a long time, what a disgrace it was, but we may just have to do it again. We have to straighten out our country,” Trump said, eliciting loud cheers.
Tuesday’s appearance was billed as a policy-focused speech to cap off a two-day summit hosted by the America First Policy Institute, a think tank founded by former Trump administration officials.
Trump’s remarks started out on script as he laid out a series of proposals to curb crime, such as imposing the death penalty for drug dealers and relocating scores of homeless Americans. He also touched on immigration, the economy and culture war issues like blocking transgender athletes from competing in women’s athletics.
But by the end of Trump’s 90-minute speech, it resembled something similar to his 2020 campaign trail speeches. Trump railed against the Russia investigation that marked the early days of his presidency, he dinged Anthony Fauci for his pandemic recommendations, he mocked the appearance of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and he bemoaned that he was impeached in 2019 “over a phone call” with the Ukrainian president.
Still, the speech was well-received as Trump spoke to a friendly crowd of GOP lawmakers and former administration officials that included House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Kellyanne Conway, both of whom Trump recognized by name.
Toward the end of his speech, Trump accused his critics of attacking him “so I cannot go back to work for you,” a comment that triggered chants of “four more years” from the audience.
Trump has openly teased the possibility of running for president again in 2024. Sources said aides have raised the idea of announcing as early as this summer. Trump told New York Magazine in a recent interview that he has all but decided on whether to run, but that he is unsure whether it would be best to announce before or after November’s midterms.
Some Republican lawmakers have publicly suggested it would be best for the party if Trump waited until after the midterm elections, expressing concerns that an early entry into the 2024 race would then make the November elections a referendum on Trump and drive up turnout among Democratic voters.
Trump’s viability as a leader of the party has been thrown into question at least for the moment as a House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol spotlights the former president’s role in spreading falsehoods about the 2020 election, encouraging his supporters to come to the Capitol and then doing nothing for hours to quell the violence.
Polling has shown majorities believe Trump bears responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack. And more recent polls have indicated at least some of the Republican Party is willing to move on from Trump in favor of an alternative candidate in 2024.
A New York Times-Siena College poll released earlier this month found 49 percent of GOP primary voters said they would back Trump in a hypothetical match-up against five other potential candidates, including former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The same poll showed Biden’s approval rating sitting at 33 percent. But it also showed Biden leading Trump in a hypothetical 2024 rematch, 44 percent to 41 percent.
That point has fueled reluctance among some Republicans to embrace a third Trump White House campaign, with some instead looking for an alternative candidate to carry the torch of Trump’s agenda.
Pence, speaking in Washington earlier Tuesday, repeatedly called for conservatives to focus on a forward-looking message that could garner support from a broad swath of voters. When one attendee at the conference for young conservatives asked about a perceived break with Trump, Pence walked a careful tightrope.
“I don’t know that the president and I differ on issues. But we may differ on focus,” Pence said after rattling off a list of accomplishments from the last administration.
“I truly do believe that elections are about the future, and that it’s absolutely essential at a time when so many Americans are hurting, so many families are struggling, that we don’t give way to the temptation to look back,” Pence said.
Trump, meanwhile, will remain a prominent presence in Republican politics regardless of when he announces his 2024 intentions. He has been campaigning in primary races for candidates, oftentimes those who have embraced his lies about the 2020 election.
And the president indicated in Tuesday’s speech that he would continue to outline his vision for a country under GOP control after the midterms and beyond.