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Donald Trump teased a third run for office on Sunday night as he returned to the national stage with a barnstorming speech in which he positioned himself as the future of the Republican Party.
In his first major speech since leaving the White House, Mr Trump declared his dominance over US politics was "far from over" and repeated his false claims that he had won the 2020 presidential election.
"As you know [Democrats] just lost the White House," he said, before hinting at a potential run in 2024 saying: "Who knows? I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”
While he stopped short of pledging to run for president again, his heavily anticipated address to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the annual jamboree for grassroots conservatives, confirmed Mr Trump's intention to remain a dominant force within US politics.
"Do you miss me yet?" he asked after taking the stage to his old campaign rally soundtrack.
Mr Trump appeared more relaxed and sported a tan as he spoke on stage for well over 90 minutes.
His speech received an enthusiastic response from the audience, who chanted: "We love you!" repeatedly as he celebrated his administration's accomplishments and doubled down on his America-first agenda.
“We went through a journey like no one else," Mr Trump told the crowd. "We began it together four years ago and it is far from being over.”
Republicans breathe sigh of relief
Mr Trump also put to rest Republican fears that he would seek to break away from the GOP and form his own party after being criticised for his role in the Capitol attack on January 6.
"We're not starting new parties," he said, calling reports to the contrary "fake news”.
"We have the Republican Party. It's going to be united and stronger than ever before," Mr Trump said.
Leading Republicans in Washington have been divided over Mr Trump's role in the party's future but many have now accepted his iron grip over the party base and fallen in line behind the former president.
They include Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leaders in Congress, who criticised Mr Trump's role in the Capitol attack but have made conciliatory comments in recent weeks.
A string of potential 2024 Republican candidates were also careful to showcase their enduring loyalty to Mr Trump as they spoke at CPAC.
"I will be actively working to elect strong, tough and smart Republican leaders," Mr Trump said as he urged supporters to donate to his campaign committees.
Supreme Court 'has no guts'
But despite his early claims of unifying the party, Mr Trump excoriated those in the party who had voted to impeach him and singling each out by name to loud boos from the crowd.
Mr Trump portrayed his Republican critics as members of a failed political establishment at odds with the party's base and vowed to campaign to elect candidates in line with his policy agenda.
Mr Trump's remarks were likely to prompt unease among some Republicans as he repeated his claims of a "rigged election" and labelled the outcome "a disgrace”.
The former president called for an overhaul of US elections, suggesting doing away with early voting and limiting postal voting to those who are sick or overseas.
He accused the Democrats of changing the election laws due to the "China virus", therefore making the election "illegal".
During the Covid pandemic, American states changed their rules on how people could vote, encouraging people to vote remotely due to the dangers of voting in person in a pandemic. As a result, there was a near-record turnout, which Mr Trump has claimed is proof of fraud.
He repeated claims that "illegal aliens" and "dead people" voted during the Nov 3 election, adding: "The level of dishonesty is not to be believed. It's such a disgrace.
"This election was rigged and the Supreme Court didn't have the guts to do anything about it."
'Now it's America last'
Mr Trump also delivered a withering critique of Joe Biden's first month in office and his policies on immigration, coronavirus lockdowns, fossil fuels and big tech.
"In just one short month we have gone from America first to America last," he said.
He also entered the debate over trans athletes, claiming that Democrats are destroying women's sport by allowing trans women to compete.
"It's crazy, it's crazy what's happening," Mr Trump said. "Women's sports as we know it will die."
Mr Trump's dominance over the Republican Party was earlier confirmed in a CPAC straw poll of conference goers on Sunday, where 55 per cent of participants said they would vote for him in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis came in second place with 21 per cent.
Nigel Farage, who spoke at CPAC last year and featured in a warm up video for Mr Trump’s address, tweeted: “A strong and disciplined Trump at CPAC today. He still dominates the Republican Party and will be a very effective opposition leader. Go Donald!”
As he concluded his remarks, Mr Trump again teased the crowd with a potential second run for office.
"We will first take back the House and then a Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House. I wonder who that will be!" he said as he smiled.