WASHINGTON – Donald Trump brought his dark views of Joe Biden’s presidency to Dallas on Saturday night, warning that “American civilization will collapse” if he’s not returned to power and reciting his oft-peddled falsehoods about the 2020 election.
“The election was rigged and stolen, and now our country is being systematically destroyed. And everybody knows it. … I ran twice and won twice,” he declared at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “America is on the edge of an abyss. And our movement is the only force on Earth that can save it.”
“We have to seize this opportunity to deal with the radical left socialists and fascists,” Trump continued, rallying activists for the November midterms.
The former president has hinted strongly at another White House run. His one hour, 45-minute stemwinder doubled as a campaign speech and gripe session, about the House Jan. 6 investigation, congressional adversaries in both parties and Biden.
“I’m always being persecuted,” he said. “I agreed to stay silent … the persecution of Donald Trump would stop immediately.”
Persecution and grievance were recurring themes at the three-day conference, where speakers echoed Trump’s disproved assertions that he won in 2020.
“They’re trying to put him in jail to make sure he cannot run again and 2024 and be the rightful president he should be right now,” Steve Bannon, Trump’s former strategist, told CPAC on Friday, two weeks after his conviction on two counts of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump has been a rock star at CPAC for years.
He handily won a straw poll of attendees on Saturday, topping Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis 69-24 as their top pick for president in 2024. Sen. Ted Cruz was a distant third at 2 percent. He also scored a 99 percent approval rating.
“When is the last time somebody had 99 percent approval?” Trump quipped.
Nationally, just under half of Republicans name Trump as their top choice and nearly 1 in 5 believe his actions after losing the election “threatened American democracy.” At CPAC, 91 percent of attendees would support Trump if he seeks the GOP nomination.
“Almost all of the progress that we have made comes either directly or indirectly from Donald Trump,” said conservative media host Glenn Beck, warming up the crowd for the former president.
High on Beck’s list: the end of Roe vs. Wade. Trump installed half the justices who ruled 6-3 to end abortion rights, cementing a rightward shift that will last a generation.
Kari Lake, the Trump-backed GOP nominee for Arizona governor, called him “the greatest president we’ve ever known.”
“He’s got the globalists against him. He’s got the fake news against him. He’s got the left against him, and he’s even got some people in our own party against him,” she said.
Trump took the stage at the Hilton Anatole to the strains of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American,” surveying the ballroom at attention until the song ended.
“We are a nation that has in many ways become a joke,” he asserted.
Trump lavished attention on Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, teasing that Jackson liked being White House physician even more than serving in Congress, because “he loved looking at my body. … He said I was the healthiest president that’s ever lived.”
Trump unleashed venom against both parties’ leaders in Congress – not only the Democratic House speaker, “crazy Nancy Pelosi,” but also Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who he blasted for failing to derail Biden’s agenda.
“Mitch McConnell has hurt our party very badly,” he said. “Something has to be done.”
Trump also blasted Pelosi for visiting Taiwan days earlier, saying that had needlessly provoked China.
“I got impeached twice. She failed twice. The woman brings chaos,” Trump said, asserting that by going to Taiwan, Pelosi “played right into their hands. Now they have an excuse to do whatever they’re doing.”
In Congress, Republicans and Democrats lauded Pelosi for defying China and demonstrating U.S. support for Taiwan.
Trump hit Biden for failures on the economy, foreign policy and a “sick…open border agenda” – not always with the facts on his side,
“We are a nation that allowed Russia to devastate a country, Ukraine, killing hundreds of thousands of people, and it will only get worse,” he said, exaggerating the death toll since Russia invaded by at least a factor of 10.
He complained that Biden turned “the safest border in U.S. history by far” into “the worst border ever in history,” with deadly and avoidable consequences. Except that the example he used didn’t fit his point.
“Just last month, an illegal alien here in Texas was indicted for the cold blooded murders of four elderly women throughout the state. And he’s been linked to the deaths of at least 24 people,” he said.
That referred to Billy Chemirmir, convicted in April of murdering an 81-year-old woman. Authorities say he may have smothered two dozen elderly women in senior living communities and private homes in Dallas and Collin counties.
“Perhaps the deadliest serial killer in Texas history… An illegal alien,” Trump said. “Every death at the hands of a criminal illegal alien is entirely preventable.”
Except that this particular murder is a Kenyan immigrant with permanent legal status, not an illegal immigrant.
Trump also strayed from fact when he taunted Biden for allowing gasoline prices to skyrocket.
“$1.87 a gallon I got it down to….A friend of mine from California called me this morning. He just paid $8.55,” Trump predicted. He’d cited $8.25 a day earlier at a rally in Wisconsin.
Data from the federal Energy Information Administration show the average is $3.65 per gallon in Texas, down nearly a dollar in two months. It’s $4.13 nationally, and $5.47 in California.
The low point Trump cited came when the Covid-19 pandemic brought the economy to a standstill.
“Fake news is all we get,” he complained later. “And they are the enemy of the people.”
Trump spoke at CPAC in Dallas in July 2021, the last time the American Conservative Union held the event there. He basked in chants of “four more years.” He downplayed the violence of the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s victory. The House hearings have revealed that Vice President Mike Pence’s aides and security detail feared for his life and their own.
And he spun the same tall tales about a “rigged election.”
“No evidence? There’s so much evidence,” he insisted then.
Todd J. Gillman, The Dallas Morning News