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Former President Donald Trump marked his return to the nation’s capital on Tuesday with a speech looking toward 2024 but also relitigating the 2020 election.
Trump for the most part used the keynote address at the America First Policy Institute summit to talk about the November midterms and the next race for the White House — at least temporarily setting aside his obsession with the contest he lost.
“I’m here before you to begin to talk about what we must do to achieve that future when we win a triumphant victory in 2022 and when a Republican president takes back the White House in 2024, which I strongly believe will happen,” Trump said, speaking at the Marriott Marquis in the address for his allied think tank’s America First Agenda Summit.
But in the 90-minute-plus speech, Trump was unable to resist his pull toward 2020 and the past. He took about a minute toward the end to peddle lies about his defeat almost two years ago.
“I ran for president. I won. Then I won a second time — did much better the second time,” Trump said.
He then laid out what he called “previous assaults” against him and the country, from the Mueller investigation to two impeachment trials. He said the same was happening with Jan. 6, 2021, as the committee unveils damning evidence about the former president and his inner circle’s actions surrounding the Capitol attack.
“They want to damage me so I cannot go back to work for you,” Trump said to chants of “four more years” and a standing ovation. “And I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Trump’s debut in Washington as former president comes almost a year and a half after he departed the White House in disgrace after Jan. 6 rocked the nation. As the former president inches closer to announcing a 2024 run, he used the event to tout his administration’s policy from the border to the economy. He then attacked the Biden administration on inflation, high gas prices and what he called a “wide-open” southern border.
The former president spent the majority of his speech on crime and public safety — capitalizing on an issue the GOP has latched on to in the past year as the nation faces a surge in shootings and homicides. He painted a dark picture of crime in the U.S., running through a list of brutal murders.
“If we don’t have safety, we don’t have freedom. We don’t have a country. America First must mean safety first,” Trump said. “Starting with our new majorities in Congress next year and continuing under the next Republican president, we need an all-out effort to defeat violent crime in America and strongly defeat it. And be tough. And be nasty and be mean if we have to.”
Trump outlined his vision for the Republican Party’s approach to crime. He talked about supporting police officers, while putting forth a series of policy ideas — from returning to the historically racist policing tactic of stop-and-frisk, to imposing the death penalty for drug dealers to creating space for tents outside of cities to send homeless populations.
“Execute a drug dealer and you’ll save 500 lives,” Trump said.
In the former president’s tough talk on crime, there was no mention of his bipartisan achievement in getting the long-sought criminal justice reform measure, the First Step Act, passed in 2018. It was seen as a potential shift in the GOP’s tough-on-crime mindset, a move toward rehabilitation and racial fairness. Now in 2022, in line with GOP messaging, Trump leaned into his attacks on Democratic-led cities, where he claimed crime is running rampant.
The speech was somewhat organized at the top, but gradually lost track toward the middle and end as Trump bounced around topics from immigration to attacking transgender rights and women’s sports to Covid.
The Trump-friendly crowd was responsive, clapping and cheering in response to his remarks. Several of the former president’s allies were spotted ahead of his speech. Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee; former White House advisers Stephen Miller and Kellyanne Conway; and former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker were among those gathered at the Marriott Marquis.
Trump’s speech also occurred amid yet another split-screen moment between himself and his former vice president, who also appears to be gearing up for a 2024 bid. Mike Pence spoke hours before Trump on Tuesday, at the Young America’s Foundation’s signature event, unveiling his “Freedom Agenda,” which he was scheduled to present on Monday at the Heritage Foundation.
Pence, continuing his tight-rope walk when talking about his former boss, said that he and Trump have similar visions for the future of the party, and that the conservative movement is not “divided.”
He said he didn’t necessarily differ on issues with Trump — it’s “focus” where he sees some space between the two.
“Some people may choose to focus on the past, but elections are about the future,” Pence said, in an implicit critique of Trump. “And I believe conservatives must focus on the future to win back America.”
Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.