Donald Trump swept into Dallas on Sunday spinning tall tales about the 2020 election and the crowd that mobbed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 hoping to keep him in the White House despite his defeat.
“There was such love at that rally. You had over a million people there. They were there for one reason…. We had a corrupt election. We had a rigged election. We had a stolen election,” Trump said earlier Sunday on Fox News, describing the scene Jan. 6 as “a lovefest….They were peaceful people. These were great people.”
Estimates put the crowd that day at no more than 50,000. Several thousand lay siege to the Capitol, bashing in windows and doors, attacking police with flagpoles, bike racks, hockey sticks and pepper spray and sending lawmakers into hiding for hours.
Trump’s appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Hilton Anatole was part of a reemergence since Jan. 20, when he retreated to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in the final hours of his presidency.
At CPAC and a pair of recent rallies, Trump has sought to elevate his profile, settle scores, and keep supporters revved and potential 2024 rivals muted.
Speaker after speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, heaped praise on Trump before he took the stage at the Hilton Anatole Sunday afternoon.
Stephen Miller, architect of Trump’s immigration policies, lauded his former boss for crafting a new “conservative populism.”
“He fought the open borders lunatics… He fought China. He fought the terrorists,” Miller said. “President Trump did an amazing job… defending this nation’s heritage, its culture, its values.”
“What was Donald Trump right about?” the ex-president’s son Donald Trump Jr. asked the CPAC crowd on Friday. “Everything!” they shouted.
A straw poll found that Trump is the top pick at CPAC or the 2024 nomination, besting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis 70-21. If Trump opts not to run, DeSantis would be the top pick for 68% of attendees.
Trump’s approval rating: 98%. Biden’s disapproval rating, for comparison: 97%.
Trump was in Orlando for another CPAC event in late February, and began holding his own rallies last month, starting June 26 near Cleveland. He had a second rally last weekend in Sarasota, Fla. Both drew tens of thousands of supporters.
On June 30, Trump joined Gov. Greg Abbott in the Rio Grande Valley to tout the border wall whose construction Biden halted.
George W. Bush waited years after leaving office before weighing in publicly on any political fights.
Barack Obama played an active role in the 2018 midterms, two years after leaving office, and again last year, helping his vice president defeat Trump.
Trump embarked on what some of have his “revenge tour” much sooner after leaving the White House.
For the Ohio rally, he picked a fairgrounds in the district of Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach him for inciting the Jan. 6 riot. Trump called him “a grandstanding RINO, not respected in DC, who voted for the unhinged, unconstitutional illegal impeachment witch hunt.”
In Sarasota he denounced a fresh indictment in Manhattan accusing the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer of large-scale tax evasion, claiming “prosecutorial misconduct” while effectively admitting the accusations: “They go after good, hard-working people for not paying taxes on a company car…or a company apartment… or education for your grandchildren.”
As he was expected to do in Dallas, Trump also treated supporters to a greatest hits litany of grievance.
He railed against the “radical left,” “fake news” and “socialist” Democrats who have taken credit for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic and undone all his progress on border security.
“The radical left is bringing a nightmare of mayhem and lawlessness to every state and community in this country,” Trump said in Sarasota.
He pressed the falsehood that the election was stolen, and downplayed the violence of Jan. 6, when thousands of frenzied supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol at his urging in hopes of preventing Congress from certifying the election.
Some called for the deaths of Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. An officer lost an eye in the riot. More than 500 rioters face criminal charges and federal authorities are hunting for hundreds more.
On Fox News on Sunday, hours before taking the stage in Dallas, Trump complained to Maria Bartiromo about a “double standard” that has allowed “vicious killers” in the Antifa and Black Lives Matter movements to escape arrest and punishment for violence at protests against police violence last summer, while Capitol rioters remain in jail.
“There were no guns whatsoever… and yet they have people still in jail. There were no guns. There were no guns,” Trump said. “It’s not right. And they’re military people, and they’re police officers, and they’re construction workers. And they’re …tremendous people.”
Other CPAC speakers also downplayed the violence of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, even suggested Sunday morning that by holding back a robust security presence that day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats were “setting things up” to get Trump supporters in trouble.
“And, by the way, while you’re at it, who shot Ashli Babbitt? Why are they keeping that secret?” Trump said on Fox. “Who is the person that shot [this] innocent, wonderful, incredible woman, a military woman, right in the head? And there’s no repercussions.”
A Capitol Police officer shot her as she and other rioters tried to breech a barricaded door to the Speakers Lobby, a restricted area adjacent to the floor of the U.S. House. She was trying to climb through a broken section of the door.
Capitol Police have not identified the shooter.
“They’re protecting that person,” Trump said, adding that he’s heard the officer was “the head of security for a certain high official, a Democrat…. It’s going to come out.”
CPAC attendees are among the most fired up Republican activists, and since Ronald Reagan’s headline appearance at the first such gathering in 1974, candidates have seen it as an important stop along the road to the White House.
Trump’s appearance Sunday had some of those familiar trappings. There were few empty seats in a ballroom that has been no more than half-filled since the first sessions Friday afternoon. Red MAGA hats were abundant.
Metal detectors not in place the last two days caused long lines on Sunday.
As Trump critic Joe Walsh, a former GOP congressman, put it ahead of Trump’s rally last weekend in Sarasota, “Trump’s supporters already know he’s a tax cheat, a liar, a rule-breaker, and a crook. They don’t care.”
During a Fox News town hall from the Rio Grande Valley last week, Trump told Sean Hannity that he’s already decided whether to run in 2024, though he refrained from saying what the decision is, as he did again on Sunday.
“I can’t reveal it yet” because of campaign finance rules, he told Bartiromo, but “we’re going to do very well. People are going to be very happy.”
He even expects to collect endorsements from cable news networks because of the ratings bonanza his campaign would bring.