Four years ago this month, Donald Trump tweeted about evolving circus norms. “Ringling Brothers is phasing out their elephants. I, for one, will never go again. They probably used the animal rights stuff to reduce costs.” Just over three months later, Trump announced his candidacy for president of the United States. Eighteen months later, he won. On Saturday morning at CPAC, President Trump took to the stage more than 40 minutes late, giving an American flag a hug before beginning his remarks. Trump delivered an address that was meandering and largely off-script, attacking his enemies and revisiting many of his greatest hits, bragging about his election victory and inauguration crowd size. Trump spoke to a capacity crowd for the third year in a row, many of whom had risen before dawn to snake through byzantine Secret Service lines. Outside the Gaylord National Resort, looming in the distance all week: a big blue circus tent.
Trump’s appearance on the final day of the country’s “conservative Super Bowl” comes at the end of a week in which he failed to broker a peace deal with North Korea and was implicated in multiple crimes by his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen.
Trump’s entire speech was meandering and mostly ad-libbed. He talked about how his friends address him now that he is president, another friend of his who he called a “stone cold killer,” and how Never-Trumpers are now on “mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.” The president also went on an extended rant about immigration and restated lies about late-term abortions, claiming people “execute the baby after birth,” which is categorically untrue.
Speaking to the true believers before him, the president did not seem fazed as he predicted his own reelection in 2020 and reveled in his 2016 victory, saying, “I think we’re doing really well, and it’s driving the other side crazy… I think we’re gonna do even better in 2020, I think we’re gonna do numbers we haven’t seen in a long time.”
Pointing to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, Trump said, “This phony thing that now looks like it’s dying, they don’t have anything with Russia. There’s no collusion… The collusion delusion. So now we’re waiting for a report, and we’ll find out whether or not and who we’re dealing with. We’re waiting for a report by people that weren’t elected… Now Robert Mueller never received a vote, and neither did the person that appointed him. And as you know, the [former] attorney general [Jeff Sessions] said, ‘I’m gonna recuse myself.’ And I said, ‘Why the hell didn’t he tell me that before I put him in? How do you recuse yourself?’ But the person who appointed Robert Mueller never received a vote. Robert Mueller put thirteen of the angriest Democrats in the history of our country on the commission.”
Trump continued, “How do you do that? These are angry, angry people. Look at them. One of them was involved with the Hillary Clinton Foundation, running it. Another has perhaps the worst reputation of any person I’ve ever seen. All killers. In fact, it would have been actually better for them if they put half and half and Mueller can do what he wants anyway… But we have conflicts. I had a nasty transaction with Robert Mueller many years ago. He wanted the job as FBI director, and I didn’t give it to him. Why isn’t that mentioned? Jim Comey, lying James Comey is his best friend. And those are a few of the conflicts. Other than that, it’s wonderful.”
He later added, “And the next thing you know, they’re trying to take you out with bullshit.”
Trump says "bullshit."
"We had the greatest win of all time… Unfortunately you put the wrong people in a couple of positions, and they leave people for a long time that should not be there. All of a sudden, they are trying to take you out with bullshit. With bullshit." pic.twitter.com/KO9TMI3W9z
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 2, 2019
From his perch inside the Potomac ballroom, Trump attacked the Democrats who regained control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections, saying, “Right now we have people in Congress who hate our country… Sad, it’s very sad when I see some of the statements being made. Very sad.” He also called House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) “Shifty Schiff.”
As always, the president villainized the media, saying, “I’ve learned with the fake news, if you tell a joke, if you’re sarcastic, if you’re having fun with the audience, if you’re on live television with millions of people and 25,000 people in an arena, and you say something like, ‘Russia, please, if you can, get us Hillary Clinton’s emails! Please, Russia, please! Please get us the emails, please!'” At this point, the crowd began to chant, “Lock her up! Lock her up!”
Trump goads the crowd into booing "the fake news," then suggests he was just being sarcastic when he called for Russian hackers to go after Hillary Clinton's emails during a 2016 news conference.
The crowd responds with "lock her up!" chants pic.twitter.com/kuCu61UgMr
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 2, 2019
Trump continued, “So everybody’s having a good time, I’m laughing, we’re all having fun, and then that fake CNN and others say, ‘He asked Russia to come get the emails. Horrible.’… These people are sick, and, I’m telling you, they know the game and they play it dirty more than anyone’s played the game. Dirtier than it’s ever been played.”
The president’s speech capped off a week in which conservative leaders and pundits — still rebuilding after November losses and a flipped House — dwelled on freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and attempted to dismantle her Green New Deal.
Trump, too, mocked the Green New Deal, saying, “When I look at what’s happening on the other side, I encourage it…. The new green deal, or whatever the hell they call it. The Green New Deal, right? Green New Deal, I encourage it. I think it’s really something that they should promote, they should work hard on. It’s something our country needs desperately. They have to go out and get it, but I’ll take the other side of that argument only because I’m mandated to. But they should stay with that argument. Never change. No planes, no energy, when the wind stops blowing that’s the end of your electric. ‘Darling, is the wind blowing today? I’d like to watch television, darling.’ It’s the truth.”
He later referred to the resolution as a “high school term paper written by a poor student” and said Ocasio-Cortez has been “ranting and raving like a lunatic.”
Like nearly every marquee speaker at CPAC this week, Trump warned of the dangers socialism poses to America, saying, “We know that the future does not belong to those who believe in socialism. I heard a great speech yesterday from our Vice President Mike Pence talking about this subject and talking about it beautifully. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, America will never be a socialist country.”
On Friday morning, Vice President Mike Pence reminded the room that “freedom, not socialism, ended slavery.” One day before, the short-tenured White House aide Dr. Sebastian Gorka warned a riveted CPAC audience that Democratic Socialists like Ocasio-Cortez “want to take away your hamburgers,” adding, “this is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved.”
The speech lasted an astounding two hours and two minutes, but the conservative audience ate it up, interrupting him mostly with laughter, applause and chants of support, although as the speech dragged on, their enthusiasm seemed to diminish. Trump later contended that “no one left the room” during his monologue, although as a pool reporter noted, that was untrue.
Trump goes on a weird rant about a "great friend of mine from New York" who is "a stone cold killer."
"He kills people for a living, meaning mentally and financially," he says. pic.twitter.com/6lEAFAOdny
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 2, 2019
This post has been updated.