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President Donald Trump spoke where he said “it all started,” alongside the “great patriots of CPAC.” Donald Trump’s annual CPAC talks — no doubt allowed by organizers because of The Donald’s celebrity status — built his credibility in the years before his campaign. The last time he didn’t speak at CPAC was in 2016, when Conservatism Inc. was still rallying around Ted Cruz to be the Republican nominee. President Trump uses the conference to test applause lines like “Make America Great Again,” so it’s worth paying attention to what he said this year.
First, President Donald Trump is, health permitting, running again. “We did it twice, and we’ll do it again,” he said about the 2016 and 2020 elections. “We’re going to be doing it again,” he continued, flatly stating the election was “rigged.” Perhaps this can be interpreted as “we” meaning “the MAGA movement,” but President Trump is nothing if not self-centered. He praised his own sacrifice, complaining that “they’re continuing their evil and demented persecution of me, my staff, my supporters, and you.”
President Trump said protesters from the January 6, 2021 riot were still being held without trial. He said many things white advocates would agree with. Yet one can’t ignore some of his terrible ideas.
He said that the border wall would be completed but would let in “legal” immigrants. He said that “we are done with fascists and Communists and socialists,” none of whom exactly have a dominant presence in the American political system. He also said that his new social media website, Truth Social, would be a big step in fighting Big Tech censorship. Given that it would largely rely on the same servers and domain name providers, and that it has already started censoring dissidents, it’s unclear why.
The foreign policy picture is more nuanced. President Trump said something that has already been taken out of context. He said President Vladimir Putin is “smart” and is playing President Biden “like a drum.” President Trump claimed he presented Angela Merkel with a white napkin to use for a surrender because Germany is reliant on Russia for energy. He said Russia would not have invaded if he was still president, something 62 percent of Americans polled agree with. He said the world was safe under his administration, but “with Biden you get a war in Europe and energy dependence, with Republicans you get energy independence and energy dominance.”
Some journalists seem determined to link President Trump to President Putin, but President Trump outlined a far more anti-Russian line than the Biden Administration. He mocked the idea that sanctions would deter Russia and suggested that President Biden shouldn’t have initially ruled out a military option. He said that President Biden’s alleged opposition to American domestic energy production had made Russia stronger. President Trump also hit President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, including the “$85 billion” in weaponry supposedly left behind. President Trump said that American has lost its “self-confidence” as a nation.
While many white advocates would agree with this, many would also be troubled at the implication we need a more aggressive foreign policy. However, President Trump also bragged that he had prevented America from entering new wars. President Trump therefore channeled both the hawk and the dove. He bragged that he got along with President Putin but said that didn’t mean he would let America be taken advantage of. This argument is probably too subtle for America’s media.
President Trump directed the most energy against a largely undefined “they” roughly comprising Democratic politicians, lying reporters, and the Deep State. “They say that Ukraine’s borders are sacred, borders are sacred, and ‘we feel for Ukraine and Ukraine’s sovereignty must be defended at all costs,’ they say,” President Trump rambled, “even while they’re destroying our own borders and destroying our own sovereignty. We have a border that’s a catastrophe. We have people coming into our country that we don’t want.” He warned that admitting unvetted migrants will force Americans to pay “a price for years to come.”
President Trump is self-centered and often disorganized, but even now he speaks core truths that no one else dares. “Under Joe Biden,” he said, “we’re losing our country no different than if we lost it in a war.”
Critically, he linked this to immigration.
Millions of people are coming in, descending on our communities, camping in our towns, depleting our resources, flouting our laws, and bringing crime, drugs, and death to the streets of our cities and communities.
No other candidate speaks this way. Rather than calling on Americans to crusade overseas, President Trump said that America must be fixed first. “You can’t defend Western Civilization if you would not be able to defend your own civilization,” he said, “[and] that means we need borders that work, elections that are fair and free and not rigged, and crime that must be immediately stopped in our cities.” The former president said we are being “poisoned from within” by illegal, unvetted immigrants who aren’t just coming from Central and South America, but around the world. “We’re considered a dumping ground for criminals.”
President Trump is tapping into the concerns of both white advocates who see their people being overwhelmed and American civic nationalists who see their nation-state’s power declining. “I believe we deserve a president who will stop the invasion of our country,” he said. It’s a powerful appeal to old-fashioned patriotism.
February 26, 2022: Former President Donald Trump speaks during CPAC in Orlando, Florida. (Credit Image: © Tomas Diniz Santos/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via ZUMA Press Wire)
He called new Supreme Court nominee Kentaji Brown Jackson a “radical left zealot” without mentioning her by name. It was a not-so-subtle reminder to this Republican crowd that control of the Supreme Court will be on the line in the next presidential election.
President Trump explicitly went after Justin Trudeau. He praised the “patriotic truckers, workers and families,” whom he accused Justin Trudeau of having “violently put down.” “Their assets and life savings have been frozen,” he said. America, he warned, is next. He said: “Radical leftists are replacing American Democracy with Woke Tyranny. They want to do the same thing that Trudeau has been doing to Canada and much, much worse.”
President Trump promised to “take on this powerful and power-hungry ruling class.” Among other politicians, he also praised Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, who spoke at the increasingly influential AFPAC. President Trump suggested that the pushback would begin this year with the midterm elections. He called on voters to “deliver an electoral defeat that will send them [the political class] into political exile never ever to return again.”
There’s a contradiction here between his claims that the last election was “rigged” but that the ballot box can deliver victory next time. President Trump alluded vaguely to efforts that would make sure it couldn’t happen again. This isn’t reassuring.
Some of President Trump’s speech sounded as though it came from his scorched earth 2016 run. With apologies for his rambling style, consider this excerpt:
Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and Crazy Nancy Pelosi are the sinister faces of this corrupt and lawless political establishment. They enrich their families in Ukraine, China, Russia while they shutter your small businesses right here at home. They send young Americans to fight and die for the borders of distant foreign nations while they throw our borders open to an illegal foreign invasion, which is what is happening. They send violent criminals loose without charges while prosecuting their political opponents for fabricated crimes. They legalize mass robbery and cheer for BLM and antifa rioters, ransacking our cities while they hold non-violent protesters without trial [and] destroy their lives. They lift sanctions on Iran while they sanction and destroy our own citizens. They try to silence voices like Joe Rogan for alleged misinformation while they perpetuate the most flagrant misinformation, and hoaxes, and monstrous lies like the Russia, Russia, Russia hoax. How is that?
This is a sweeping indictment of the American elite.
President Trump also promised Critical Race Theory would be eliminated from schools, the military, and every other institution that receives any federal money. President Trump portrayed Biden’s America as something close to a totalitarian state.
They indoctrinate your children to hate their parents while calling you a hateful racist. They sic the FBI on mothers on school board meetings while they teach 4-year-olds to pick their own genders, would you like to change your gender? (Crowd boos). And they say it’s absolutely fine for a boy or man to participate in women’s sports. (Boos). They use Big Tech to censor you, they use the Deep State to spy on you, they use the intelligence agencies to frame you, they use the media to slander you, they use the legal system to persecute you, they rig elections to disenfranchise you and destroy you and ruin your lives.
President Trump cited what he believes was the fraudulent election of 2020 and scoffed at those who say they are “defending democracy.” “It’s a lot of bulls**t, that’s what it is,” he said. He also tried to build a bond between himself and his audience by saying the “Unselect Committee” members investigating the January 6 riots “hate all of us.”
Throughout all of this, the conservative contradiction remained. President Trump simultaneously discredited our governing regime but also promised to make it stronger. President Trump told his audience that America is controlled by an evil elite that uses propaganda and lies to rig elections and sends our people to die pointlessly. At the same time, he said that he wanted to increase American military power, took a more anti-Russian line than the current Administration and told Americans to go vote. Why should we, if we face a system that is so evil that it won’t permit change?
He vaguely alluded to breaking up Big Tech and restoring free speech online but didn’t propose anything specific besides his own social media app. He also told people to watch One America News. That’s fine, but it won’t solve the problem of DirectTV kicking it off. We’ve learned from deplatforming that there is no “marketplace of ideas” and companies put political correctness even above profits.
Many Americans sense this stifling cultural order and want to throw it off. President Trump promised to solve our problem. “We will not surrender our borders, we will not surrender our culture, we will not surrender our children to the small band of bullies and extremists who want to tell everyone else what to do,” President Trump said. He called on supporters to take on the “vicious people” — the powerful and power-hungry ruling class.
This is a tall ask. Many of his supporters thought they were doing just that on January 6. While President Trump has spoken with the family of Ashli Babbitt, he didn’t pardon his supporters when he still had power. President Trump isn’t telling anyone anything new other than vote Republican.
President Trump’s greatest value is, and has always been, his ability to reveal (sometimes unintentionally) the true nature of our rulers. Again, he calls us to confront them. His enemies are our enemies. Yet what is missing is any plan to protect his supporters. Getting President Trump back on Twitter would be funny, but it means nothing to those who were hurt physically, financially or both for supporting him. Another Trump term won’t stop digital deplatforming, denial of financial services, racial discrimination against whites, or countless other issues. We can’t afford another four years of performance art.
Still, at least President Trump comes closer to naming the problem than anyone else who has a chance in 2024. Today, he remains the frontrunner for the nomination, as the CPAC straw poll confirmed. If President Trump wins the nomination, he will once again continue his important work of revealing media double standards, undermining the System’s credibility, and even winning some important policy victories on immigration. However, despite it all, he still doesn’t seem to have a plan to protect his voters or displace a Deep State that he considers evil. Perhaps that should be our responsibility now — proposing not just our ultimate goals but a program that could be implemented now by a president willing to use government power.
President Trump’s CPAC speech showed that he remains the best we have among serious presidential contenders. He’s the most likely to confront a system he’s publicly decried as illegitimate. However, he still can’t move past his own self-obsession. It’s still not clear he’s learned from his experience. What’s worse is that few in the GOP seemed to have learned from it either. If he’s the best the GOP has, we really need to do a better job of pressuring him or building a vehicle for ourselves to win power where we can.