Time turned back at CPAC on Sunday. Although the calendar outside the Orlando ballroom packed with conservative activists may have said it was February 28, it was still January 4 inside. The repeated lies about the 2020 election had not yet and would never cost Republicans control of the Senate, let alone incite a deadly attack on the United States Capitol. Time was paused until Trump returned to his rightful place in the Oval Office.
Appearing as the grand finale of a conference filled with panels and speakers pushing claims about voter fraud and election integrity, Trump arrived late, then went through his potpourri of lies about the 2020 election and added a multitude of grievances about his defeat — when he cared to acknowledge it. He touted his appointment of three Supreme Court justices as one of his most important accomplishments, then railed against the high court for not enabling his effort to overturn Joe Biden’s victory. “The Supreme Court again didn’t have the guts or the courage to do anything about it,” he complained.
As a substitute, Trump suggested making massive changes to election laws in the United States, including essentially forbidding early voting by mail after railing against its expansion in the 2020 election. “They used COVID as a way of cheating,” Trump falsely claimed in reference to how most states, regardless of political affiliation, had expanded absentee voting for public-health reasons.
Often though, Trump just returned to claiming that he actually won the election, with the ballroom of CPAC attendees breaking into chants of “you won” in response. The speech was filled with the type of statements that would get Trump banned from Twitter, if he hadn’t already been banned from Twitter.
Trump also targeted the 17 Republican lawmakers who voted to oust him from office as a result of his incitement of the January 6 attack. He listed them all by name starting with the senators who voted to convict him like Mitt Romney and “Little Ben Sasse” before reciting the House members who voted to impeach him, culminating in Liz Cheney, whom he called a “warmonger, a person who loves seeing our troops fighting.” There was no mention of why they were being targeted. Simply that they were RINOs, ensconced in the Washington Establishment, who needed to be purged from the Party. “Get rid of them all, “ he proclaimed.
Aside from his false claims about the election, it was a standard oratorical offering from the ex-president — and characteristically overlong, lasting nearly 90 minutes. Although there were some new flourishes, like his criticism of trans women participating in women’s sports, much was the same old rhetoric. Trump railed against immigration and “open borders” in the stiff, stern language he often uses when reading prepared remarks. There were the familiar riffs on pet bugaboos including his long-standing grudge against wind turbines, which he derided for killing birds. And, as always, he read his text as if large sections were entirely new to him, offering occasional commentary and going off on obscure meandering riffs, including, at one point, the statement “the world is actually a small piece of the universe.”
Before Trump spoke, Congressman Jim Jordan essentially endorsed a third White House bid for the ex-president from a stage and a straw poll of attendees at the right-wing conclave showed that 97 percent of attendees, many of whom were clad in MAGA hats, approved of his performance as president. It could have been an event from any time during Trump’s term of office. But then again, at CPAC, it was as if he had never really left.