Former President Donald Trump made his first post-presidency visit to Washington, DC, on Tuesday to deliver the keynote address at the America First Agenda Summit.
His remarks came on the second day of the two-day summit, hosted by the America First Policy Institute (AFPI), a think tank founded and run by former Trump administration officials.
In his wide-ranging remarks, mirroring the long, free-wheeling addresses he often delivers at rallies, Trump reiterated his erroneous belief that the 2020 election was stolen from him, and that he was the “most persecuted” president in history, citing both of his impeachments, the Mueller investigation and the House Select Committee to Investigate the Attack on the U.S. Capitol.
He did, however, spend much of the speech looking forward, saying he believes Republicans will have a strong showing in the November midterm elections.
“I'm here before you to begin to talk about what we must do to achieve that future when we win a triumphant victory in 2022 and when a Republican president takes back the White House in 2024,” he said.
There had been loose speculation ahead of the speech that Trump could use the platform to announce his intent to run for president in 2024. While he did not do that, he did hint at an eventual announcement.
Trump also said a Republican Congress would need help from a Republican president in the White House, adding, "I think that help will be forthcoming, and I think it’s going to be a lot sooner than people think."
There is no mechanism by which Trump could return to the White House sooner than Jan. 20, 2025, the inauguration day for whichever candidate wins the 2024 election.
Apart from expressing support for down-ballot Republicans, Trump touched on a variety of issues, including crime, transgender women playing on women’s sports teams, puberty blockers for children, and border security
Trump spent a significant portion of his remarks talking about crime, stringing together anecdotes from around the country about several high-profile violent crimes to paint a picture of a nation he said is “going to hell very fast.” Along with inflation, crime is a key issue Republicans have campaigned on for much of the 2022 cycle in an attempt to draw contrast with Democrats and President Biden.
"We're living in such a different country for one primary reason — -there is no longer respect for the law and there certainly is no order," he said.
At one point, he called for the death penalty to be applied to drug dealers after citing stringent drug policies in foreign countries like China, a comparison he has made before.
“It’s terrible to say, but you take a look at every country in this world that doesn't have a problem with drugs, they have a very strong death penalty for the people that sell drugs,” he said. "Execute a drug dealer, and you save 500 lives."
He also spent a chunk of the speech on border security, in which he decried the Biden administration’s handling of the southern border and claimed the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country is “poisoning” and “destroying” the country.
Trump also alluded to a plan to reshape the civil service.
“To drain the swamp and root out the deep state, we need to make it much easier to fire rogue bureaucrats who are deliberately undermining democracy, or at a minimum just want to keep their jobs,” he said.
He said Congress should institute reforms in pursuit of that goal, but the rhetoric mirrors recent reporting from Axios outlining a plan among Trump aides to launch new executive action that could allow Trump to fire up to 50,000 federal workers if he is re-elected in 2025.
Trump's first trip to the nation's capital since the end of his term in early 2021 reunited him with several alumni of his administration at AFPI, including eight Cabinet-level officials and multiple former senior White House officials.
The speech comes just over three months before the November midterm elections in which the Republican party is expected to sweep back into power in Congress. Forecasts from both FiveThirtyEight and Politico find Republicans likely to regain the House majority and perhaps the Senate as well.
It also comes amid a volatile moment for the former president as the House Select Committee continues to investigate any possible role he may have played during the January 6 attack on the Capitol A recent poll from the New York Times and Siena College found that while 49 percent of Republican primary voters name Trump as their first choice, 46 percent have a different favorite. Twenty-five percent say they are backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Trump's support waned among college-educated Republican primary voters in particular, the poll found, with 65 percent of such voters expressing a preference for a candidate other than Trump.
Other polls among the party faithful show Trump retaining strong support. Fox News reported Sunday that a straw poll at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit, a gathering of young conservative activists, yielded a dominant Trump victory with nearly 79 percent of attendees saying they will vote for Trump in 2024.
The shakiness of the field has brought speculation about when or whether Trump will announce a presidential run for 2024. The former president fed the conversation recently, telling New York magazine's Olivia Nuzzi he has his mind made up about 2024.
"Well, in my own mind, I've already made that decision, so nothing factors in anymore. In my own mind, I've already made that decision," he said.
"Do I go before or after? That will be my big decision," he added, referring to midterms.
The timing of Trump's announcement is a source of tension for many Republicans.
The Washington Post reported earlier this month that, while some believe a pre-midterm announcement from the former president would drive turnout on the right, others fear it will turn the midterm elections into a referendum on Trump and the Make America Great Again movement as a whole.