National Harbor (United States) (AFP) - President Donald Trump rallied right-wing activists Saturday with a speech offering conservative red meat on immigration, trade and the threat of "socialism" as he sought to move on from a bruising week in domestic and international politics.
"We believe in the American dream, not in the socialist nightmare," he said to boisterous applause from hundreds of supporters at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) near Washington.
"America will never be a socialist country," Trump added in a mammoth two-hour speech that seemed to draw energy from the fervent reception offered by some of his influential supporters in the room.
It was his first public appearance since coming home empty-handed, and to criticism from all sides, after a nuclear-disarmament summit with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un. He told CPAC the meeting was "very productive" -- but that he would not "make a deal just for the sake of doing it."
The White House is also smarting from explosive testimony on Capitol Hill by Trump's former lawyer and fixer on Wednesday that branded him a cheat and a racist.
Trump, often speaking in mocking tones, portrayed the Green New Deal climate strategy touted by the left of the Democratic party as a socialist plan that will devastate the fossil fuel and automotive industries.
He said progressive healthcare policies would "lead to colossal tax increases" -- and accused the Democrats of having "totally abandoned the American mainstream" on issue such as immigration and abortion.
- 'These people are sick' -
With the federal investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia reportedly approaching its conclusion, Trump again berated Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team as partisan hacks out to get him, adding that "these people are sick."
His voice dripping with sarcasm, he suggested that his call in summer of 2016 for Russia to find and release Hillary Clinton's emails was a joke that had been obtusely taken at face value by the media.
On the foreign front, Trump repeated his claim that the last Islamic State group fighters in Syria would be captured or killed imminently -- "as of tomorrow" -- after on Thursday telling US troops "we just took over" 100 percent of the caliphate. Two weeks earlier Trump had declared the fall of the so-called caliphate would be announced "over the next 24 hours."
He railed against Chinese tariffs on American goods and said the US loses $500 billion a year to the world's second biggest economy -- "such a disaster."
Trump regularly ignores the dominant US services sector to focus only on goods, when in 2017 the US trade deficit with China was actually $337 billion -- not $500 billion.
Trump last year initiated a tariff war with Beijing, which has taken a nasty bite out of US growth. Although both sides say they are now close to resolving the dispute Trump insisted he's "fine with it" and told his supporters: "The beauty is this. I have $250 billion more to put tariffs on."
The word "socialism" has been in heavy rotation since some Democratic candidates began openly embracing liberal platforms including the Green New Deal and a Medicare for All.
On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the four-day conference in National Harbor, Maryland, to warn that Democrats are taking a "hard left turn" ahead of 2020.
"Under the guise of Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, Democrats are embracing the same tired economic theories that have impoverished nations and stifled the liberties of millions over the last century. That system is socialism," he said.
Trump's speech came at the same time Senator Bernie Sanders, who has embraced the label of "democratic socialist," spoke at a rally in New York, assailing Trump as "the most dangerous president in modern American history."
- 'Freedom' or 'socialism' -
It was Sanders' first major speech since announcing he will again seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.
Republicans hoped Trump's address would serve as a diversion from the Mueller investigation and to the testimony this week on Capitol Hill by the president's former personal attorney Michael Cohen implicating him in crimes.
In December a court sentenced Cohen to three years in prison for hush-money payments to two women and for lies to Congress -- both of which he said were to protect Trump -- and tax evasion.
During Cohen's testimony the president was in Vietnam where a high-stakes second summit between Trump and Kim broke up in disarray Thursday, without even a joint statement. The pair failed to reach an agreement on curbing Pyongyang's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.