Trump returns to the scene of his tainted legacy

Trump received a standing ovation in a ballroom packed with Republican lawmakers, former cabinet officials, administration officials, donors and supporters, before delivering a speech detailing his commitment to crime and public safety. Projects were focused on. It touched on transgender athletes, immigration and China’s controversies, and it outlined a proposal to build tent cities on the outskirts of major US cities where the government would relocate the nation’s homeless.

But Trump has been most vocal in talking about something even some allies wish he would drop — his false claims of a “stolen” election, which fueled the events of Jan. 6. Put a damper on that or on a political movement representing many in the room.

“They really want to hurt me so I can’t go back to work for you now, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Trump said of the committee’s work on Jan. 6. He received a standing ovation from the room. “If I stayed home and took it easy, Donald Trump’s persecution would stop immediately. It would stop. But I won’t.”

The announcement — from a former president who had been denounced by his own party’s congressional leaders just 18 months earlier — “Four more years!” was met with the slogans of

The two-day summit, which ended with Trump’s speech, was a reunion of sorts for the “America First” set working to advance the Trump administration’s agenda after the White House. But it wasn’t just a homecoming. It was a test run of what kind of reception a Trump revival tour might get in DC.

Yet his speech was not the only major event in the city featuring a prominent Trump-era figure.

Earlier Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence — who was not on AFPI’s agenda — spoke at the conservative Young America Foundation. It created a split-screen moment for the two key figures from January 6, as Washington is still reckoning with the fateful day.

For those gathered to hear Trump speak at the Marriott Marquis, the Trump-Pence rivalry was shrugged off, and January 6 was either a “political witch hunt” or just an afterthought.

“I don’t know how deep the rift goes — I think Pence lost an opportunity for me to be great and be credible,” said Greg Seymour, a pastor from Las Vegas who traveled to the two-day event. were done “Do I think people should have stormed the capitol? Absolutely not. But I think there was a lot more to it than burning different cities. Nobody talks about what a tragedy it was. was,” said Amber Colwell, a physician from Mississippi who came to hear the talk on health care and Trump’s speech.

Instead, attendees were hopeful that Trump could announce another run soon, though many said they were anxious to hear him outline a more forward-looking vision. Trump’s close allies have also urged him. In his speech, Trump painted a picture of America in decay, detailing horrific crimes in cities across the country. He called for the hiring of more police officers, the rollback of controversial “stop-and-frisk” policies and the death penalty for drug dealers. He also called on Congress to pass a “historic package of public health, public safety and mental health reforms” and said the federal government must protect the right to self-defense.

“We need to do everything we can to beat crime in America and beat it hard, and if we have to, be tough and brutal,” Trump said.

In his Washington speech on Tuesday, Pence maintained, as he has done before, that he “couldn’t be more proud of the record of the Trump-Pence administration.”

But when asked during a question-and-answer session about the “seems to be divided” between him and Trump, Pence portrayed the former president as a politician who can focus on the past, 2020 A clear rebuke of their preoccupation with Election

“I don’t know that the president and I differ on issues, but we may differ on focus,” Pence said. “I really believe that the election is about the future, and that it’s absolutely necessary — at a time when so many Americans are hurting, so many families are struggling — that we look back. But I think it’s time to put forth a bold, positive agenda to bring America back. And I will continue to deliver that message to the nation.

It is on this premise that Pence has carefully contrasted Trump. On Tuesday, he cast the midterm elections as a historic clash between “united conservative action” and the “aggressive liberalism” of the left.

Pence is trailing Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the 2024 primary — seen by some conservative Republicans as an unassailable complement to Trump, yet many see Trump’s hardliners overturning the 2020 election. As disloyalty to resist Trump’s efforts. .

Pence, despite previously saying that “there is nothing more un-American than the notion” that he could overturn the election, has been largely reluctant to address questions about Jan. 6. to the federal grand jury investigating the riots at the Capitol.

But retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who served as Pence’s national security adviser and now works at AFP, called the widespread rift between Pence and Trump “tremendous.” stated.

“Washington is a political city, you have to expect it. It is what it is,” Kellogg said.

Mark Lauter, AFPI’s communications director who also worked for Pence, believed that the two men were in fact offering the same policy vision. “He’s talking about America First policies in his tone and his mannerisms, but he’s talking about the same thing, rebuilding the success we’ve had in the Trump-Pence administration,” Lotter said. have been and are pushing it forward,” Lotter said.

With the return of Trump came a familiar circus. Protesters outside the Marriott chanted and waved flags, calling Trump a “fascist.” After the speech, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) jeered at him from the hotel driveway.

The ballroom was packed with lawmakers like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), former top Trump administration officials like Larry Kudlow and Small Business Administrator Linda Mack. Mohan, and Trump’s former president. White House aides and campaign staff. In the audience were Republican VIPs like RNC Chair Rona McDaniel, top Trump aides like Stephen Miller and others now working with AFPI, like Kellyanne Conway and Brooke Rollins.

On occasion, aides reminisced about their time in the White House. Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is running for governor in Arkansas, recounted an overnight Christmas trip to visit troops in Iraq and her warm welcome to a conservative crowd here in D.C. The welcome was mocked.

“It’s exciting to be in Washington and have people cheer for you when you get behind a podium,” Sanders said.

Eric Ueland, who served as Trump’s director of legislative affairs in the White House, said the summit sometimes felt like a White House reunion.

“It’s great to see people and share war stories – but now also try to figure out, OK, where are we going next?” Yoland said.

David Siders contributed to this report.