President Donald Trump delivered a scorched-earth speech to conservative activists on Saturday, calling the Russia investigation “bullshit,” adopting a southern accent to mock his former attorney general, and asserting that some members of Congress “hate our country.”
The rollicking two-hour-plus appearance at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland offered the president a brief respite from an otherwise miserable week in which his much-touted summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un ended in failure and his former personal lawyer delivered explosive testimony to Congress.
Story Continued Below
Trump, basking in the adoration of the crowd, largely glossed over the North Korea summit’s collapse, instead reviving several of his greatest hits, from rehashing the 2016 election to obsessing over the crowd size at his inauguration.
The speech amounted to a boatload of red meat for conservatives, with Trump promising he’ll protect them from undocumented immigrants, socialism and liberal Democrats he claims are dead set on bankrupting the country with proposals like the Green New Deal.
“You know I’m totally off script right now,” Trump said at the beginning of his speech. As his meandering remarks continued, it became clear that his assessment was an understatement.
At one point, Trump regaled the crowd with a story about a general he said was named “Raisin Caine” (it wasn’t immediately clear who he was referring to). He said he always sits with the pilots when airplanes are landing: “They know what we’re doing.” He boasted about his good eyesight and later added, “I don’t have white hair.” He derided a Hawaii senator as a “crazy person.” And he accused Hollywood of discriminating against conservatives.
He even revisited his campaign kickoff speech from June 2015. “From day one, I mentioned the word rape. If you look at that first speech, that was very innocent compared to what’s happening,” Trump said. Trump came under fire for his 2015 comments, which appeared to broadly assert that Mexicans were rapists.
Throughout, Trump again revealed himself to be a president deeply scorned by what he views as unfair media coverage and a lack of recognition from many in Washington. “I get no credit,” he said multiple times throughout the lengthy speech.
He also insisted that nobody had left the speech early, but journalists present reported that in fact, some attendees were seen departing before the close of his remarks.
Later, the president sounded off on the 2020 election, expressing regret that he attacked Sen. Elizabeth Warren so early. “I should have saved the Pocahontas thing for another year,” he said. “I’ve destroyed her political career and I won’t get a chance to run against her and I would have loved that.”
The president’s remarks overlapped with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ first major speech as a 2020 presidential candidate — marking the first of many split-screen moments between Trump and the many people who are trying to ensure he doesn’t win a second term.
Trump clearly delighted in the passion of the conservative audience, pointing to onlookers and applauding as Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” blared on the speakers. At one point, the president wrapped his arms around an American flag on the stage, holding the hug for a moment as he mugged for the cameras.
“I’m in love, you’re in love and we’re all in love together,” the president declared.
Though Trump didn’t linger long on his North Korea summit, he suggested at the end of his remarks that he publicly took Kim at his word about Otto Warmbier’s death in order to salvage a possible denuclearization deal. Trump said he was in “such a horrible position because in one way I have to negotiate, and in another way I love Mr. and Mrs. Warmbier and I love Otto and it’s a very delicate balance.”
The president repeatedly took aim at Democrats in Congress. “We have people in Congress that hate our country,” he said. “You know that, we can name every one of them. They hate our country.” He then bashed the Green New Deal, jokingly encouraging liberals to keep pushing it because it would benefit him politically. “They should stay with that argument,” he said. “Never change.”
Trump revived his divisive immigration rhetoric. “They don’t like it when I say it, but we are being invaded,” he said. He disputed government statistics showing that undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born American citizens, calling the data false propaganda” and citing no evidence to support his claim.
The president also discussed his infamous 2016 appeal to Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, arguing that he was just joking and criticizing the press for taking his comments seriously.
“So everybody is having a good time, I’m laughing, we’re all having fun. Then that fake CNN and others say, ‘He asked Russia to go get the emails. Horrible,’” Trump said, adding, “These people are sick, and I’m telling you, they know the game and they play it dirty, dirtier than anybody has ever played the game.”
Trump is still under fire for his 2016 campaign plea to Russia, in which he appeared to ask the foreign power to recover the emails from Clinton’s private email server when she was secretary of State. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said in July 2016. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller later said that Russian spies began trying to hack into Clinton’s server after Trump’s plea.
The president seemed fixated on the Mueller probe and the other investigations that are aimed at the people in his inner circle.
“All of a sudden, they are trying to take you out with bullshit,” Trump said to raucous applause from the crowd.
“Now Robert Mueller never received a vote and neither did the person that appointed him and as you know, the attorney general said, ‘I’m going to recuse myself,” Trump continued, putting on a southern accent and mocking former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “And I said ‘Why the hell didn’t he tell me that before I put him in?'”
He also railed against House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who has intensified his panel’s scrutiny of Trump’s business dealings.
“I saw a little Shifty Schiff yesterday,” Trump said. “He went into a meeting. He said, ‘We are going to look into his finances.’ Where did that come from? He always talked about Russia. The collusion delusion.”
The speech marked Trump’s third consecutive appearance as president at the gathering of conservative leaders.
Before Trump spoke, the television screens in the room played a contentious interview between American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, the organizer of the conference, and CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. At one point, Cuomo said the president “lies all the time.” Schlapp shot back, “Not true.”
As the CPAC crowd looked on, CNN flashed a chyron that said, “Conservatives fail to call out Trump’s repeated lies.”
Schlapp later introduced the president, making a point to stress the crowd size at the event. “We’re so full that even our overflow rooms have overflow rooms,” Schlapp said.
“Even in the midst of nuclear diplomacy, Mr. President, we are happy that when you walked away, you walked here to be with us,” Schlapp added later.
Trump spent Saturday morning tweeting and, apparently, watching cable news.
He promoted his Scottish golf course, calling it the “greatest golf course anywhere in the world” and arguing it improves the United States’ relationship with the United Kingdom. He also retweeted a video promoting Trump campaign merchandise and corrected Fox News host Neil Cavuto for erroneously saying Kim’s trip to Vietnam took three hours.
“It was a 3 day train ride to Vietnam, not 3 hours!” Trump said.