Former president Donald Trump on Sunday took advantage of his fervent support among the rank and file at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference to set himself as frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination.
It was barely a month since he left office and mere weeks after the Senate failed to convict him in his second impeachment trial.
In a speech of about one and a half hours, Mr Trump declared “the incredible journey we’ve begun four years ago” is “far from being over", all but declaring his intent to run for the Republican nomination and ruling out rumours that he may seek to start a third party.
Throughout the speech, he persisted with his false conspiracy theory that he won the election, reiterating unsubstantiated claims of mass voter fraud.
“As you know, they just lost the White House,” Mr Trump said. “It’s one of those things. But who knows? I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”
He did not address the fact that the conspiracy theory prompted many of his supporters to violently storm Capitol Hill in a failed bid to keep Congress from certifying the election results.
But Mr Trump did name and shame Republican legislators who voted to impeach him for allegedly inciting the failed insurrection, reserving most of his ire for Liz Cheney, the House’s No 3 Republican.
He also attacked the justices on the Supreme Court for last year throwing out an election fraud case filed by Texas and several other Republican-led states.
Mr Trump did not attack House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who also spoke at the conference, despite a heated phone argument during the January 6 riot.
The Republican leader sought to convince Mr Trump to call on his supporters to end the siege on the Capitol.
And while several other high-profile Republicans who could angle for the 2024 nomination attended, many of the conference’s high-profile speakers repeated the false election fraud claims, showing the grip the former president still has on the Republican Party.
A poll conducted by The Washington Times found 68 per cent of those attending the conference wanted Mr Trump to run for president again in 2024, while 95 per cent said they wanted the Republican nominee to continue his policies and agenda.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis polled just behind Mr Trump.
While CPAC typically convenes in Washington, DC, the organisers held it in Orlando, Florida this year because of restrictions on indoor gatherings in the capital during the pandemic.
Other speakers included former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and Senator Ted Cruz.
The high-profile list of keynote speakers reflected the expanding influence that CPAC, and Mr Trump’s far-right ideology, has had on the Republican party in recent years.
The conference even featured a statue of Mr Trump painted gold, and the crowd enthusiastically greeted the former president’s speech with chants of “We love you” and “You won”.
Aside from the false voter fraud claims, Mr Trump spent most of his time rehashing several of the culture war issues that propelled him to the White House in 2016, heavily criticising Mr Biden for his immigration policies and school closures amid the pandemic.
“In just one short month, we have gone from America first to America last,” he said.
Mr Trump also attacked Mr Biden on Iran, falsely claiming that “the new administration unilaterally withdrew our crippling sanctions in Iran, foolishly giving away all of America’s leverage before negotiations have even begun".
Mr Biden has kept the Trump sanctions regime on Iran in place, insisting that he will not lift them until Iran returns to compliance with the nuclear deal.
The Biden administration did reverse the Trump administration’s position at the UN regarding multilateral snapback sanctions on Iran.
But those sanctions never went into effect under either administration because of the Security Council’s position that the US had no authority to initiate snapback UN sanctions on Iran because it had withdrawn from the nuclear deal.