Former President Donald Trump had some harsh words Saturday night for the people he blames for the world’s ills: “Fascists.” “Dumb” political leaders. “Truly evil people.” And people who are “afraid to do the right thing.”
He wasn’t talking about Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom the former U.S. president said again Saturday night at the Conservative Political Action Conference is indeed “smart.” While Trump spent a brief part of his 85-minute-long speech in Orlando denouncing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the Republican saved most of his vitriol for Democrats and Republicans he believed were not on his side.
“The socialist, globalists, Marxists and communists who are attacking our civilization have no idea of the sleeping giant they have awoken,” Trump said to a packed, cheering crowd, referring to President Joe Biden and ruling Democrats, asking Americans to “stand up to the left-wing fascists.”
Trump went after “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) GOPers he believed were not voting or behaving the way he thought Republicans should. He even took a shot at his own nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, suggesting that the justice’s votes on high court decisions were driven by a fear of being impeached because of sexual misconduct charges brought up during the jurist’s nomination hearings.
“I believe he’s afraid to do the right thing,” Trump said. “I really do.”
As much of the world and the American political community was coming together to support Ukraine against a Russian attack that many fear could serve as a template to undermine democracies around the globe, Trump had a perfect opportunity Saturday night to shift his tone. But instead of railing against foreign aggressors and autocrats, Trump listed grievances against him personally and urged the defeat of those who would get in his way.
While touting how well he got along with foreign autocrats, such as Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump blasted a wide array of American foes, ranging from Democratic leaders to those who defend transgender children or approve of mask and vaccine mandates.
“Our most dangerous people are people from within,” Trump said.
In a back-handed reference to a third run for the Oval Office, Trump said, “We did it twice and we’ll do it again. We’re going to be doing it a third time.” He did not explicitly say, however, that he would seek a second term after losing his 2020 reelection effort.
The former president began his speech recognizing conservatives at the event, including Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee and Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma. He did not mention several prominent speakers – such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas – all of whom are potential contenders for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
Trump made a point of singling out for praise Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. The Republican congresswoman is under fire for speaking at a white supremacist event elsewhere in Florida on Friday. RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel issued a statement saying “white supremacy, neo-Nazism, hate speech and bigotry are disgusting and do not have a home in the Republican Party,” but she did not mention Greene by name.
Trump also made a point of slamming Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, a Republican. The former president praised Sen. John Kennedy, the Bayou State’s junior senator, but pointedly said the “other” senator is “not so good, I’ll be honest.” Cassidy voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial in early 2021.
About 24 minutes into his speech, Trump turned his attention to the brutal Russian attack on Ukraine, calling the assault “appalling” and “something that should never have been allowed to occur.”
But Trump directed most of his blame for the invasion at Biden, saying Putin never would have dared to attack Ukraine if he, Trump, were still in power.
“As everyone understands, this horrific disaster would never have happened if the election were not rigged and if I were the president,” Trump said. “Very simple – it never would have happened.”
Trump’s first impeachment was rooted in charges that he threatened to withhold critical military aid from Ukraine unless its leader helped dig up dirt on Biden’s family. Trump was acquitted of those charges in the Senate.
On Saturday night, Trump cast that episode as one in which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy absolved him of any wrongdoing. He said Putin had indicated to him, when he was president, that he “had an affinity” for Ukraine but that the Russian leader would never have made a move unless Biden was in charge.
“The problem is not that Putin is smart, Of course he’s smart. The real problem is that our leaders are dumb,” Trump said. “They’ve allowed him to get away with this travesty and this assault on humanity.”
“Putin is playing Biden like a drum,” Trump said. “It would have been so easy for me to stop this travesty from happening.”
In a nod to the culture war-heavy agenda of the CPAC event, Trump derided “critical race theory,” which he said he would ban from discussion at any entities receiving federal funding. He said he sided with Canadian truckers protesting vaccine mandates by blocking roads.
“You’re either with the peaceful truckers or you are with the left-wing fascists,” Trump said. At an earlier rally, Trump was booed by his own supporters when he said he had gotten vaccinated.
When it came to the Supreme Court –– now one-third Trump appointees –– the president expressed disappointment. Accusing Democrats of mulling a plan to “pack” the high court with additional appointees, the former president said, “the way the Supreme Court is behaving,” perhaps “the Republicans should pack the Supreme Court.”
The high court has ruled against Trump on some critical cases, including one dismissing his effort to deny Congress information about the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol due to “executive privilege.”