Donald Trump assailed his successor Joe Biden for rising inflation and crime as the former president returned to Washington for the first time since his term in office ended in violence and disgrace.
In a speech on Tuesday at a political conference hosted by supporters, Trump said inflation and fuel prices had been lower when he left office and predicted that Republicans would take control of Congress in November and the White House in 2024, though he did not declare himself a candidate.
He noted that the Consumer Price Index hit 9.1 per cent in July, compared with a year earlier, and remarked that “a lot of people think it’s much higher than that”.
The former president cited several gory incidences of violent crime, portraying the country as ruined by his Democratic successor.
“Our country is now a cesspool of crime, he said. “It has to stop and it has to stop now.”
Trump returned to the national political spotlight on the heels of a series of congressional hearings on the January 6th insurrection he instigated as he sought to overturn his 2020 defeat. The hearings portrayed him as a vindictive and erratic leader who whipped up anger over claims of a stolen election that his own advisers told him were unfounded, then stood by when a mob of his supporters invaded the Capitol.
Late in his speech, Trump hinted at another run, after complaining again that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
“We may just have to do it again,” he said to applause and cheers.
The former president described efforts to restrain police from committing violence as having gone too far and called for the return of “stop and frisk” practices that have been criticised by many civil rights groups for targeting people of colour.
Trump claimed that because criminals now lack respect for authority under Democratic governance, “drugged-out lunatics attack innocent victims at random”, “roving mobs of thieves rob stores” and “the dangerously deranged roam our streets with impunity”.
He proposed deploying the National Guard to fight crime in Chicago; swiftly trying and executing drug dealers as in some other countries; and removing homeless people from tents in city parks and relocating them to “high-quality tents” elsewhere. He criticised sex education in early grade school and the use of puberty blockers in children while adding that he didn’t know what they were.
“We should not allow men to play in women’s sports,” he said, before describing a women’s weightlifting competition in which he said a transgender athlete named “Alice had set a new record”. It wasn’t clear if the story was real or apocryphal. The former president acted out the competition, pretending to lift weights as his audience laughed.
“It’s so disrespectful to women,” he said.
Trump spoke just blocks away from the White House at a conference sponsored by the America First Policy Institute, a nonprofit led by Trump administration alumni.
Trump’s popularity has ebbed outside his devoted political base. About 56 per cent of Americans hold an unfavourable view of the former president and less than 41 per cent hold a favourable view, according to an analysis of polling by FiveThirtyEight.
That 15-point gap has almost tripled since late March, before the House’s January 6th committee began holding its public hearings on the Capitol riot.
A master showman, Trump now has a chance to seize attention for his political message and build momentum for a potential third run for the presidency that he has flirted with publicly.
Republican rivals are manoeuvring to take him on in a potential primary challenge and in some cases gaining considerable ground. Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who recently pulled even with Trump in a poll of the early primary state of New Hampshire, appears the most formidable of his potential challengers.
Hours before Trump spoke, his estranged former vice-president, Mike Pence, another potential 2024 rival, travelled to Washington for his own address. He pushed back on Trump’s relentless focus on the lost 2020 presidential election, urging Republicans to move forward.
“I truly do believe that elections are about the future,” Pence, 63, said in response to a question about division in the Republican Party. “It’s absolutely essential at a time when so many Americans are hurting, so many families are struggling, that we don’t give way to the temptation to look back.” - Bloomberg