By Arul Louis
Former US President Donald Trump has roared back into the political arena with a hint that he may run for office in 2024 and a jet of vitriol against members of his Republican Party not loyal to him, as well as Democrats.
Speaking in public on Sunday for the first time since leaving office, Trump did not admit defeat in the November 3, 2020, election and instead said “I may even decide to defeat them a third time”.
He tamped down speculation that he may start a third party calling it fake news seeking to divide the Republican vote “so that you can never win”.
“We have the Republican Party it’s going to unite and be stronger than ever before,” he said even as he announced an enemy’s list of several members of his party who voted for this impeachment or to convict him.
He flexed his political muscle at the annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) where an informal poll showed that 68 per cent of the participants wanted him to run again and 95 per cent supported his policies.
The group represents the more conservative wing of the Republican Party reflecting his base and the crowd, many of them unmasked and not socially distanced, repeatedly chanted, “We love you”.
Trump’s hold on a broad base of the party presents a dilemma for the party. He is a divisive figure who caused many unaffiliated voters and those in the middle to vote against him.
Yet the party cannot win without his supporters.
Trump said: “The only division is between a handful of Washington, D.C. establishment political hacks and everybody else all over the country.”
He named the Republicans like Senator Mitt Romney and Representative Liz Cheney, who have criticised him and also voted against him during the impeachment, and said: “Get rid of them.”
Trump criticised the Supreme Court, which rejected his case against the election of hi successor Joe Biden.
The court has a conservative majority bolstered by his three nominees none of whom came to his rescue.
“They should be ashamed of themselves for what they’ve done to our country. They didn’t have the guts or the courage to make the right decision.”
He said “our election process is worse than that in many cases of a third world country,” and called on the party to work for election reforms.
Among the flaws he listed is some US states not requiring IDs for voters, which would not pass muster in most countries.
Trump attacked Biden, who has been in office for just 39 days, asserting that “in just one short month, we have gone from ‘America First’ to ‘America Last’”.
“We all knew that the Biden administration was going to be bad, but none of us even imagined just how bad they would be and how far left they would go,” he said.
His main criticism was on Biden’s decision to undo his immigration measures, but he also made a distinction between legal immigrants who contribute to the US and illegal and criminal immigrants, who he said were allowed to go free.
He wanted the US to welcome “people coming into our country based on a system of merit”. He said, “So they come in and they can help us”.
Trump appeared as his usual ebullient self — a rabble-rousing superpatriot.
Criticising Beijing, he blamed it for the economic setbacks caused by the “horrible thing from China”.
Also slamming Biden’s decision to return to the Paris Climate Change Agreement, he bracketed India with China and Russia as polluters “pouring fumes”.
His speech had the ring of an election campaign as he set out his record in office.
He claimed credit for the Covid-19 vaccines, which he said were made available within a year contradicting the longer timeline set by experts, because of the calculated risks he took.
Biden had made a muddled claim that there were no vaccines when he took office, but Trump pointed out that he had been vaccinated in December 2020 and ridiculed him saying that he was not being malicious, but one unaware of it.
He also took credit for the economic gains and the low unemployment before the pandemic as well as the rebound since.
Trump crticised the tech giants for what he said was their limiting free speech and said the states ruled by his party should impose taxes on them.
Twitter and Facebook have banned him.
Trump faces the likelihood of criminal cases against him. They may relate to his finances and his taxes, or even his role in the January 6 Capitol riot.
However, there is no explicit legal ban on a convicted criminal running for President.
A conviction by the Senate on the impeachment charge of instigating an insurrection through the January 6 riot could have prevented him from running for office, but he was acquitted.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)