Former US president Donald Trump on Saturday (February 26) used the Russia-Ukraine war as a plank to launch a fresh attack at his successor Joe Biden and NATO and reprise his allegations of a rigged Presidential elections in 2020.
Addressing Republicans on Saturday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, Trump ascribed the Russian invasion of Ukraine to Biden’s “weakness” while also lauding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “intellect” in the same breath.
As Russian troops advanced on the Ukrainian capital in an invasion widely condemned by Western leaders, Trump described Russian President Vladimir Putin as smart. “Of course he’s smart,” Trump said, doubling down on praise of the Russian leader that many other Republicans have avoided in the wake of the invasion. “But the real problem is our leaders are dumb. Dumb. So dumb.’
The former president, nonetheless, expressed support for the Ukrainian people and called the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, “a brave man”.
Trump then left no doubt he is the most powerful voice in Republican politics by indicating he will run for president a third time in 2024.
Supporters who had gathered to listen to his speech chanted slogans of “four more years” and donned “Make America great again” caps, pointing that the former president still enjoys a considerable fan base among Americans.
“We did it twice, and well do it again,” Trump said to a cheering crowd. “We’re going to be doing it again, a third time.”
Up until Trump’s appearance, lies about election fraud, the focus of last years’ conference, had been an afterthought among the top speakers.
No one parroted Trump’s approving rhetoric toward Putin. And some leading Republicans didn’t even mention Trump’s name.
Instead, those most likely to seek the GOPs 2024 presidential nomination not named Trump united behind an agenda that includes more parental control of schools, opposition to pandemic-related mandates and a fierce rejection of woke culture.
The message from more than a half-dozen elected officials, delivered to thousands of mostly white activists at an event that usually celebrates far-right rhetoric, does not mean the party has turned its back on Trumpism. Far from it. The former president was a frequent topic among some of the conferences lower-profile speakers. T-shirts proclaiming “Trump won” were being sold in the hallways. And Trump is expected to be announced the overwhelming winner of CPACs 2024 presidential preference straw poll on Sunday.
Still, conference organiser Matt Schlapp, the chair of the American Conservative Union, noted that Trump does not have an absolute lock on his party’s base.
Trump’s remarks came on the second day of the Russian attack on Ukraine.
Democrats have accused the former president of withholding military aid from the US ally (Ukraine) and pressure Zelenskyy of investigating Biden in the run up to the Presidential polls of 2020.
“After spending four years selling out Ukraine, the defeated former president took the stage at CPAC to double down on his shameless praise for Putin as innocent Ukrainians shelter from bombs and missiles at the hands of Russia,” commented Democratic National Committee spokesperson Adonna Biel after Trump’s speech.
(With inputs from agencies)