Trump repeats election lie, declares himself future of the Republican Party
By Steve Holland and Jarrett Renshaw
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former President Donald Trump on Sunday hinted at a possible re-election in 2024, attacking President Joe Biden and reiterating his fraudulent claims that he made the 2020 election in his first major appearance since leaving the white House won against six weeks ago.
"Our movement of proud, hard-working American patriots is just beginning, and in the end we will win. We will win," Trump said in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida.
Trump refused to admit that he lost the November 3 presidential election to Joe Biden and criticized his Democratic successor's first few weeks in office.
"You just lost the White House," said the former Republican president after criticizing Biden's handling of border security. "But who knows, who knows, I may even choose to hit her a third time."
Trump's tumultuous last week in office resulted in his supporters launching a deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 to prevent Congress from confirming Biden's election victory. A victory that Trump falsely claimed was marred by widespread fraud.
A civil war has broken out within the Republican Party in which establishment figures like Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, want to put Trump in the rearview mirror, and others like Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham believe that the party's future comes from the Pro-Trump's energy depends on conservative basis.
Declaring the Republican Party united, Trump said he had no plans to form a third party, an idea he had been discussing with advisers over the past few months.
"We're not creating new parties. We have the Republican Party. It will be united and stronger than ever. I'm not creating a new party," he said.
The results of a straw poll of CPAC conference attendees showed that Trump had strong support, with 55% saying they would vote for him in the 2024 Republican President nomination race. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took second place with 21%.
Without Trump, DeSantis led the field with 43%, and other potential Republican candidates had single-digit numbers.
But not everyone supported Trump. A separate question in the poll asked whether Trump should run again in 2024, and that produced a mixed result. 68% said he should run and 32% said he was against or had no opinion.
"It's hard to get seven out of ten to an agreement," pollster Jim McLaughlin told CPAC of the results.
Nevertheless, Trump's passion for the four-day CPAC event was so great that Trump's eldest son Donald Trump Jr. declared it a "T-PAC" and the participants rolled out a gold statue of the former president.
"Hello CPAC, do you miss me?" Said Trump.
Trump's flirtation with another run could freeze the Republican field for 2024 as other potential candidates try to decide whether to face him. Many of those 2024 potential candidates spoke during the CPAC event.
An hour after his speech, Trump delved into his unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud and contradicted the advice of confidants who believe he must look to the future.
"We have a very sick and corrupt electoral process that needs to be fixed immediately. This election has been rigged," said Trump. "And the Supreme Court and other courts didn't want to do anything about it."
"You won! You won!" shouted the crowd. Trump's election campaign and his supporters brought with it dozens of failed lawsuits attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which Biden won by more than seven million votes.
In the short term, Trump plans to set up a political super-PAC organization to support candidates who reflect his policies, an adviser said.
Trump started his speech more than an hour late, saying he wanted to save the culture and identity of the United States.
He sought to position himself as the new president's main critic, including on immigration and security along the U.S. border with Mexico and the slow reopening of schools that have closed due to the pandemic.
"Joe Biden had the most disastrous first month of a president in modern history," said Trump.
Recent polls have given Biden a job approval rating of well over 50%, a strong result from Americans.
The Biden White House has made it clear that it will ignore Trump's speech.
"Our focus is certainly not on what President Trump is saying," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters last week.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Heather Timmons, Diane Craft, Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis)
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