Former United States President Donald Trump has made his first public speech in Washington, DC since leaving the White House in January 2021, following his election loss to Joe Biden.
He spoke for 90 minutes on Tuesday at the right-wing America First Policy Institute, laying out what he said should be the policy platforms for the “next Republican president”.
Since moving out of the White House days after his supporters stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election results on January 6, 2021, Trump has remained one of the most polarising figures in the country. He has continued to spread unfounded claims the election was rife with widespread fraud and was ultimately “stolen” from him while throwing his political clout behind Republican candidates across the country who continue to spread that misinformation before legislative elections in November.
Trump has also continued to divide his own Republican Party, with some sects seeing his passionate base, populist messaging and institutional hostility as an advantage going into 2024, and others seeing it as a liability.
Here are the key takeaways from Trump’s speech:
Trump stops short of declaring his candidacy
Since leaving office, speculation has grown over if and when Trump would announce his plan to run again for a second term, as is permitted under the US constitution.
But while Tuesday’s speech resembled those the former reality television personality made on the campaign trail in his presidential bids in 2016 and 2020, Trump on Tuesday stopped short of declaring his candidacy to be the Republican nominee for the 2024 presidential election.
“I always say I ran the first time and I won, then I ran a second time and I did much better,” Trump said. “We may just have to do it again. We have to straighten out our country.”
He added the tease: “I look forward to laying out many more details in the weeks and months to come.”
The New York Times and several US media outlets have reported Trump has told allies he was weighing announcing his candidacy as early as this summer.
Trump repeats claims of election fraud
The former president bucked calls from some Republican leaders for him to downplay his persistent, and unfounded claims, that he only lost the 2020 presidential election through coordinated malfeasance, with some in the party saying the focus has alienated would-be supporters.
Trump dismissed the congressional panel probing his role in the January 6 attack, an investigation that could possibly lead to the Department of Justice pursuing criminal charges against him, as “hacks and thugs”.
“If I renounced my beliefs, if I agreed to stay silent, if I stayed at home and just took it easy, the persecution of Donald Trump would stop immediately,” he said. “But that’s not what I will do. I can’t do that.
“They really want to damage me so I can no longer go back to work for you. And I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Trump said.
Crime, immigration and the economy
While Trump’s election denial loomed large, he spent most of the speech focusing on themes that defined his successful 2016 campaign: crime and immigration.
The former president said the US “is now a cesspool of crime”, repeating a Republican talking point that a spike in violent crime in 2020, and a smaller increase in 2021, are the result of liberal policies in US cities. The rates for both years remain far below the all-time high crime rates recorded in the US in the 1990s.
“We have blood, death and suffering on a scale once unthinkable,” he said.
Trump, who launched his 2016 campaign by pledging to build a wall to stop undocumented migrants from crossing the southern border with Mexico, while accusing migrants of being “rapists” and bringing drugs and crime with them, called on the “next Republican president” to restore his hardline border policies.
“The next Republican president must immediately implement every aspect of the Trump agenda that achieved the most secure border in history,” he said.
He blamed Biden for the 40-year high inflation and energy prices in the US, which the current president has blamed on the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We are a nation in decline,” he said. “We are a failing nation.”
Two versions of a possible Republican candidate
Several hours before Trump took the stage on Tuesday, his former vice president, Mike Pence, addressed a different conservative audience in Washington, DC, offering an alternative version of a possible Republican presidential candidate.
Pence, who fell out with Trump after rebuffing pressure to overturn Biden’s election victory, sought to downplay his policy differences with the former president while promising a new tone.
“I don’t know that the president and I differ on issues,” Pence told a conservative student group. “But we may differ on focus.”
“I believe conservatives must focus on the future to win back America. We can’t afford to take our eyes off the road in front of us because what’s at stake is the very survival of our way of life,” he said.