Behind the Scenes of Trump’s Stemwinder at CPAC

Behind the Scenes of Trump’s Stemwinder at CPAC

The former president’s hour and a half speech was the comedy special attendees were hoping for.

As South Carolinians headed to the polls on Saturday, former President Donald Trump split time between the Palmetto State and National Harbor, Maryland. As he’s done throughout the 2024 primary, Trump quickly parachuted into the DMV with the accouterments of the presidency to address the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

While most of CPAC’s speakers, including speakers on Trump’s shortlist for VP, addressed half-filled rooms, it was standing room only in one of the Gaylord Hotel’s largest ballrooms. “Where Globalism Goes to Die” was projected on the screens built into the frame of the stage. The lights dimmed and the crowd, including almost everyone in the press galley, rose to their feet as Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” began to play.

It was a fitting choice. For the first time in a long time, a meeting of right-wingers in the D.C. area felt like a rock concert. Attendees stood on chairs, climbing over themselves to fix their device to the stage in anticipation of the headliner.

It’s helpful to think about every Trump speech and every campaign rally on the trail like a rock concert. People come to hear the hits and sing along with the band. The band knows as much, but brings different arrangements and riffs to make it original. 

Trump telegraphs his one-liners and catchphrases like a rock star holding out the microphone asking the crowd to sing along. But his riffs and comedic asides are abrupt—even hostile members of the press can’t help but laugh when Trump stops himself from cursing because he “would have been in trouble with the religious right.”

“But they love me, so it’s okay,” he adds.

Prior to Trump’s speech, The American Conservative spoke to Trump campaign national press secretary Karoline Leavitt. Leavitt told TAC to expect the former president to “give a speech about not only his vision to make America great again, secure the border, rebuild the economy, bring peace around the world, but you’ll hear him talk about what life would look like with four more years of Joe Biden and just how scary and dangerous that would be for our country.”

Biden’s “tax and spend policies, increased regulation on American businesses, and what could unfold if Joe Biden keeps the borders open for four more years,” Leavitt said, “are destroying this country. We cannot afford four more years of them. We will lose more American lives, we will lose more American businesses and this country will be utterly and completely destroyed.”

The message was going to be a rallying cry. “This is the base. This is the grassroots,” Leavitt said of the CPAC crowd. “These are the people we need fired up to work day in and day out on the ground in their respective counties and states over the next several months heading into the general election in November.”

Nearly an hour went by after “Enter Sandman” and before Trump, true to form, came on stage to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

“There’s a big election going on today. You’ve probably read a little bit about it. And I’m supposed to be in a slightly different location, not too far away,” Trump said to open his hour and a half of remarks. “But, nevertheless, it’s different. And I said, ‘No, I’m sorry, I have to be at CPAC today.’”

Trump quickly issued his typical thank-yous to prominent members of the crowd. A particular favorite: “Where the hell is Bannon?” Trump said as he scanned the crowd. Finding him: “Bannon looks good. We love Steve.”

“But we have to get down to business,” Trump said. “If crooked Joe Biden and his thugs win in 2024, the worst is yet to come,” Trump said, launching a brutal broadside of the president he preceded and hopes to succeed. “He’s the crookedest, most incompetent president in the history of our country.” Another four years of Biden is the “fast-track to hell,” Trump said.

“And, in many ways, we’re living in hell right now,” he added.

“Our country is being destroyed and the only thing standing between you and its obliteration is me,” Trump claimed. “I stand before you today not only as your past, and hopefully future, president, but as a proud political dissident.”

Trump leaned into his self-characterization. “I am a dissident,” he declared.

“Remember this, I’ve been indicted more than Alphonse Capone,” Trump continued, “Scarface. Al Capone. If he had dinner with you and he didn’t like the smile on your face…you would be dead before you got home and said ‘hello’ to your wife.”

“We’ll deliver a reckoning like they haven’t even imagined before. We’re going to straighten out our country. We’re going to bring our country back,” he continued. “For hard-working Americans, November 5 will be our new liberation day. But for the liars and cheaters and fraudsters and censors and imposters who have commandeered our government, it will be their judgment day.”

“Your victory will be our ultimate vindication. Your liberty will be our ultimate reward, and the unprecedented success of the United States of America will be my ultimate and absolute revenge,” Trump said. “U-S-A” chants broke out, and he smiled. “That’s what I want. Success will be our revenge.”

In South Carolina, voters are heading to the polls to decide if they, too, think success is the best revenge. Leavitt told TAC the Trump campaign is “100 percent confident we’ll have a big victory tonight, based on President Trump’s winning message, his unmatched ground game, and his overwhelming support among South Carolinians, especially within the Republican Party from the state and local level, all the way up to the national stage.”

Earlier this week, Haley promised to stay in the Republican primary long after South Carolina. “South Carolina will vote on Saturday, but on Sunday, I’ll still be running for President. I’m not going anywhere,” Haley told a small group of supporters in Greenville, SC. “I’m campaigning every day until the last person votes.”

Recent filings from the FEC suggest Haley might have the cash to keep going, in no small part thanks to donors who contributed to Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign.

“It just proves that Nikki Haley is doing the bidding of the Democratic Party. She has become a vessel for the Democrats in the Never Trump movement,” Leavitt said of the liberals bankrolling Haley’s campaign. “And it’s not going to work. She lost in Iowa by more than 30 points, lost in New Hampshire by double digits, even though she spent millions of dollars turning out Democrats in that Republican primary, it still didn’t cut it.”

“Now she’s going to have another embarrassing defeat. This time in her own backyard,” Leavitt concluded.

Trump went on for nearly another hour almost completely off-prompter, jumping between stories about negotiating border security with Mexico and flying into Iraq under the cover of darkness, frequently commenting on the handsome men he met as president, from pilots to generals to negotiators from other countries (Trump assured the crowd at one point “that’s not my thing”), while hitting all the lines his supporters came to hear.

“A really smart person can go through various stories, always come back and conclude everything,” Trump explained. “By the way, isn’t this better than reading off a freaking teleprompter?” Trump later said to raucous cheers.

“You know this is all genius,” he told the crowd. “Nobody can ramble like this. They wouldn’t even try.”

“I want to apologize for literally not repeating this beautiful speech,” Trump said in closing. “But I thought some of these stories are instructive because they tell you our military is great, they tell you our law enforcement is great, they tell you our president is incompetent. They tell you a lot of things, some of which you knew, and some of which you didn’t know.”

But the time eventually came for the former president to go “to the place I’m supposed to be.”

The post Behind the Scenes of Trump’s Stemwinder at CPAC appeared first on The American Conservative.

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