Former President Donald Trump returns to the US political stage on Sunday with a highly anticipated speech to Republican grassroots activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
Making his first appearance since his supporters overran the US Capitol on January 6, Trump will launch an attack on his successor, President Joe Biden, and lay out his vision for the future of the Republican Party, a senior adviser told Al Jazeera.
“He is the current and future leader of the Republican Party,” said Jason Miller, a top Trump adviser.
“Coming out of Sunday, it’ll be clear he is the one leader that has the vision to move the party forward,” Miller told Al Jazeera.
Trump will sound his “concern with the direction Joe Biden is taking the country” and outline a “broader direction for the Republican Party and the conservative movement”, Miller said.
The theme of this year’s CPAC gathering of Republican activists is “Uncanceled”, a take-off on Facebook and Twitter’s moves to permanently ban Trump. The conference, held every year since 1974, is customarily a place where Republicans jockeying for presidential contention go to gain prominence and solicit support.
This year, several potential 2024 hopefuls are on the agenda, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. But it is Trump who still draws everyone’s attention and his appearance is sure to prompt speculation he intends to run for president again.
“The former president is not going to go away. He likes the attention. He likes the power and the influence,” said Daniel Mallinson, a professor of public policy at Penn State University.
“He clearly has the undying and unwavering support of his followers,” Mallinson said.
Trump is likely to offer up a litany of “first-month failures”, including “the things President Trump warned about on the campaign trail” such as Biden’s easing of restrictions on migrants at the southwest US border and proposal of legislation to Congress to provide a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented migrants living in the US, Miller said.
Trump will also challenge Biden for “capitulating to Iran and China”.
Attacking Biden so soon after leaving office would be a break from US political norms in which ex-presidents generally do not engage in overt criticism of the present officeholder.
“Usually, presidents who lose become elder statesmen. They go away and write books,” said David Schultz, a professor of political science at Hamline University.
“Trump is unusual in so many ways, of course. He is not fading away. He still wants to make sure the party remains within his grasp,” Schultz told Al Jazeera.
Trump, who continues to assert he did not lose the 2020 election, may also look to settle scores with the Republicans in Congress who voted to impeach him for the January 6 riot.
Since leaving the White House former US President Donald Trump has been meeting with Republicans at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, US [File: Marco Bello/Reuters]
Representative Liz Cheney, the third-highest ranking Republican in the House, is one of 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment. Asked about Trump’s upcoming speech, Cheney reiterated her view Republicans should abandon Trump.
“I’ve been clear on my views about President Trump and the extent to which, following January 6, I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country,” Cheney told reporters at a news conference on Capitol Hill.
After Trump’s acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial, Republican leader Mitch McConnell nevertheless said Trump was “practically and morally” responsible for the Capitol riot which had resulted in five deaths.
Trump ripped McConnell as a “political hack” and promised to advance Republican candidates who back his “Make America Great Again” agenda.
Tellingly, former Vice President Mike Pence, who is viewed as a “traitor” by many Trump supporters, and Senator Mitt Romney, who twice voted to impeach Trump, are not on this year’s CPAC schedule.
Meanwhile, indicative of Trump’s continuing hold over voters, leading Republicans have made their way to Mar-a-Lago to solicit Trump’s help in the 2022 mid-term elections.
Senator Lindsey Graham, as well as House Republican leaders Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago in recent weeks to discuss strategy for the 2022 elections. Noem plans a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago next week.
Trump is sitting on a $30m political war chest he raised at the end of 2020 – funds he can use to help Republican candidates he favours.
Yet, there is talk among some Republicans about forming a new party to break away from Trumpism. And Trump’s appearance at CPAC has fueled anxiety among establishment Republicans about a party schism before the 2022 elections.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Fox News host Sean Hannity “every Republican should be focusing on” winning back control of Congress in 2022 and Trump has an opportunity at CPAC to “rebrand himself”.
Trump should acknowledge Biden’s election win and condemn the violence on January 6, Karl Rove, a top Republican political consultant and former adviser to President George W Bush wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
“Leaders who come out of the wilderness after defeat do so by changing their approach and re-creating themselves,” Rove said.