Former President Donald Trump said the fate of the nation is on the line in the 2024 election, framing the race for the White House as a day of reckoning.
Closing out the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on the outskirts of Washington, Mr. Trump warned the crowd that they are fighting against “sinister forces” that want to destroy the nation and control their lives.
“This is the final battle, they know it, I know it, everybody knows it, this is it – either they win or we win, and if they win we no longer have a country,” Mr. Trump said in the nearly two-hour speech.
Mr. Trump said if their political rivals succeed, they will turn the nation into a “socialist dumping ground for criminals, junkies, Marxists, thugs, radical and dangerous refugees that no other country wants.”
Mr. Trump has other plans in store.
“We are going to finish what we started,” he told an enthusiastic CPAC crowd. “We are going to complete the mission. We are going to see this battle through to ultimate victory.”
Mr.Trump’s appearance was the highlight of the four-day confab. The event attracted hoards of conservative leaders and activists from across the country who believe the former president gives them their strongest chance of ousting President Biden next year.
Mr. Trump promised the rapt audience that, if re-elected, he would ensure the so-called deep state would not work against him as many believe it did during his administration.
Mr. Trump touted himself as a candidate with the experience needed to tackle the pitfalls of the presidency, including knowing who to distrust.
“I will totally obliterate the deep state,” Mr. Trump said. “I will fire the unelected bureaucrats and shadow forces who have weaponized our justice system like it has never been weaponized before. These are sick people.”
Mr. Trump said the Biden administration is “the most corrupt in American history,” and he pledged, if re-elected, he would seek revenge.
“In 2016, I declared I am your voice,” Mr. Trump said. “Today, I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. I am your retribution.”
He also promised the crowd that he would “never retreat” and always continue to fight on their behalf, including by ridding the federal government of diversity, equity and inclusion policies and restoring parental rights in education.
He also took a shot at his own party, which is deeply split over his role and whether he should hold office again. Aiming at past party leaders, Mr. Trump said his MAGA movement has reshaped the GOP by tossing aside the free-trade “fanatics” and neocons who endorse “endless wars.”
“We had a Republican Party that was ruled by freaks, neocons, globalists, open border zealots and fools, but we are never going back to the party of [former House Speaker] Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and [Former Flordia Gov.] Jeb Bush,” Mr.Trump said.
Mr. Trump said the GOP also is done with China-loving politicians.
“You listening to this Mitch McConnell, you listening?” Mr. Trump said, targeting the Senate Republican leader from Kentucky.
Mr. Trump walked on stage to roaring cheers and applause after winning the CPAC poll that measured who the convention attendees would vote for in the GOP presidential primary. Mr. Trump won 62% of the vote, beating the next-most popular pick, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, by 42 points.
He thanks the crowd for crowning him the winner “in the beautiful straw poll.” He called it “a big win.”
His address to the CPAC crowd, which gave him numerous standing ovations, felt more like a rally, he said.
The former president re-litigated past criticisms of his administration as well as efforts to indict him on charges in Georgia, where he fought in 2020 to stop the state from certifying President Biden’s win.
Mr. Trump said before he took office, he was living a great life.
“I didn’t know the word subpoena. I didn’t know the word grand jury,” Mr. Trump said. “They want to lynch you for doing nothing wrong. I didn’t know they want to lynch you for doing a great job. I didn’t know they want to put you away because your polling numbers are better than anybody they’ve seen in years.”
Mr. Trump outlined some of his priorities for a second White House term.
“At the top of my list, we’ll be stopping the slide into costly and never-ending wars,” he said. “We got to stop. We can’t keep spending hundreds of billions of dollars protecting people that don’t even like us.”
He promised to somehow end the ongoing war in Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia over a year ago.
“Before I even arrive at the Oval Office, I will have the disastrous war between Russia and Ukraine settled,” Mr. Trump said.
He pledged to revoke China’s Most Favored Nation status and hold the country “financially accountable” for the COVID-19 pandemic, which he called “the China virus.”
He also pledged to restore the nation’s energy independence, which has been hobbled by Biden administration restrictions on oil and natural gas drilling.
Mr. Biden’s energy policies, he said, empowered Moscow and provided President Vladimir Putin of Russia with the money to invade Ukraine.
Mr. Trump said the war wouldn’t have happened if he were still in the White House.
“Ukraine would have been thriving. There would have been no dead people,” he said. “And there would have been no obliterated cities that can never be rebuilt. Russia never would have pulled the trigger.”
He blamed Mr. Biden for “the most dangerous time in history” and said the current president “is leading us into oblivion,” blaming him for forcing China and Russia together in a dangerous alliance.
“I will prevent, very easily, World War III,” Mr. Trump pledged. “You are going to have World War III if something doesn’t happen fast.”
Mr. Trump’s speech was the grand finale of the conservative confab, which met for four days at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center at Maryland’s National Harbor.
Mr. Trump’s reign over the event appeared solid, and attendees showed little interest in a handful of other GOP hopefuls, including Nikki Haley, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both of whom also spoke at the event.
Mr. Trump’s speech took place as other GOP 2024 hopefuls met with Republican mega-donors at the Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, just a few miles away from Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Mr. Trump was not invited to the event, which was sponsored by the anti-tax advocacy group, Club for Growth. The two dueling conferences underscored the deep divide in the Republican Party over Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump did not specifically repeat his typical claims that the 2020 election was stolen by Mr. Biden but said “we did much better in 2020 than we did in 2016.”
He said presidential primary polls show he’s leading all other Republicans “by massive numbers and very importantly perhaps more importantly, we’re leaving Biden by a lot, in general election polling.”
Many national polls show Mr. Trump ahead of the pack of potential and declared GOP candidates, but some polling in early primary voting states show his nearest rival, Mr. DeSantis, leading Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump said his popularity in the polls coincides with ramped-up prosecutions against him by “crazier and crazier” prosecutors who, he said, know they cannot stop him at the ballot box.
Mr. Trump repeated his criticism of changes to voting procedures implemented during the pandemic that remain in many states.
“All Republican governors should immediately go for paper ballots, one-day voting and voter ID,” Mr. Trump said.