It’s the latest in a series of thinly-veiled hints at his political plans, but Trump stopped short of officially declaring his candidacy, which would trigger tougher requirements on how he raises, spends and reports. funds.
The former president condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine without directly disparaging Putin, saying it’s “appalling and it’s an outrage and an atrocity that should never have happened.” Trump mocked President Biden and NATO allies for punishing Russia with sanctions, saying Putin was “playing Biden like a drum.” He boasted that Putin had not invaded any country during his tenure and said the invasion would never have happened “if our elections hadn’t been rigged” – a reference to his false claim that the elections of 2020 had been stolen from him.
“He understood me and he understood that I wasn’t playing games,” Trump said of the Russian president. “One day I’ll tell you exactly what we talked about, and we talked about it, he had an affinity, no doubt, for Ukraine. … I said, ‘Better not let that happen .’
“That’s genius,” Trump said in that interview. “Putin declares a large part of Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it independent. Oh, that’s wonderful. … He used the word ‘independent’ and ‘we’re going out and we’re going in and we’re going to help keep the peace’. You have to say it’s pretty smart.
Trump defended the labeling of Putin as “smart” during his Saturday night speech.
“The problem is not that Putin is smart – which, of course, he is smart – but the real problem is that our leaders are stupid,” Trump said to applause. “Idiot. So dumb.”
The ballroom of the hotel where the conference was held was full for the first time all weekend, and the crowd cheered when the former president hinted at the possibility of running again, in singing “four more years”. When Trump said America had “lost faith” under Biden, a man in the crowd launched a chant of “Let’s go, Brandon” – a phrase that is code for a profane phrase against Biden.
Talk of a third Trump candidacy was ubiquitous at CPAC, with attendees sporting “Trump 2024” hats and vendors selling flags for a 2024 campaign.
Before Trump took the stage, speakers urged the ex-president to run and predicted a win over any Democrat. TW Shannon, a former Oklahoma state legislator and potential U.S. Senate candidate, said Trump taught conservatives hard lessons that would “prepare us for the next time he’s president.”
Pete Hegseth, a Fox News host, compared Trump to Winston Churchill and said conservatives would “make America great again, again” in 2024. Jack Posobiec, a proponent of the false “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory who works with the youth conservative group Turning Point USA, said any Democratic candidate in 2024 would be a “sacrificial lamb” the year Trump returns.
Earlier this month, the Federal Election Commission faced a lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, that seeks to compel the commission to declare Trump a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. The plaintiff, John Anthony Castro, is a declared candidate for the Republican nomination and alleges that he is suffering “competitive harm in the form of diminished votes and fundraising.”
Brett Kappel of Harmon Curran, an expert on campaign finance laws, said he doesn’t think Saturday night’s comments are “enough for Trump to legally become a candidate.”
“He needs to make a definitive statement with no ambiguity,” Kappel said.
The reaction in the ballroom was more subdued when Trump insisted that Putin and Russia were paying “no price” for the invasion, with mild applause when he suggested sanctions would not prevent Russia to take over Ukraine. There were cheers when Trump, like others who spoke at the conference, praised Ukrainians and their president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Trump called Zelensky a “brave man,” then quickly pivoted to talk about the 2019 impeachment, in which Zelensky was a central figure. At the time, Zelensky said he did not feel pressured during a phone call in which Trump conditioned U.S. military aid on Ukraine digging up dirt on Biden. The House impeached Trump for “abuse of power” for trying to solicit aid from a foreign government against a political enemy.
During his Saturday night speech, Trump also faulted Democrats for wanting to help Ukraine secure its borders from Russia but not supporting Republican plans to bolster U.S. border security.
“We feel for Ukraine in many ways,” Trump said. “But Ukraine’s sovereignty must be defended at all costs, they say, even by destroying our borders, by giving up our sovereignty.
Not all CPAC attendees liked Trump’s thoughts on the Russian invasion. “Trump needs to say less,” said Dmitry Didovicher, a software engineer who immigrated to the United States from Kiev after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Ahead of his remarks, Trump told reporters that the war in Ukraine could “spread around the world.”
“It could be a world war,” he said, “something has to be done.”
Asked what specifically should be done, Trump said there were things to be done “that would end it very quickly,” but he was not going to speak to the press about it.