Trump’s political career should be dead and buried but this felt like a campaign rally

Not many defeated leaders could arrive an hour late for a speech but still be greeted with a standing ovation.

It’s 39 days since we last heard from the former president Trump; five-and-a-half weeks to stew on defeat and consider his future.

“Have you missed me, CPAC?” he asked the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference. You can guess the reply.

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Trump: ‘I am not starting a new party’

For almost two hours he meandered through his own perceived successes, speculated on the future, took aim at the Democratic Party and excoriated the democratic process.

He started slow, reading from script and then found the energy of the room. He deviated and free wheeled, as Trump does, at one point even criticising transgender athletes before announcing the Republican Party as the party of love.

Repeatedly he claimed that the 2020 election was rigged, despite no evidence of mass-fraud or criminality. His supporters simply cannot believe he lost.

He announced that he wasn’t planning to start a new party – “fake news, fake news” he said – and then, to pandemonium in the hall, he delivered the line they were all waiting for:

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“Who knows, I might try and beat them for a third time…”

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Trump says his journey is ‘far from over’

Not quite a commitment to run in 2024, but enough of a tease.

“It was so inspiring it made me cry,” one delegate told me afterwards.

“Do you think he’ll run?” I asked another. “Stupid question,” was the reply.

Mr Trump had points to make, scores to settle and old mistruths to peddle.

He took aim at anyone who has spoken out against him, regardless of party, listing them by name to boos from his charged audience.

By rights, after losing the election by seven million votes and having been impeached for a second time, Mr Trump’s political career should be dead and buried. Instead this felt like a campaign rally, a leader setting out his manifesto for the fight ahead.

Mr Trump is playing the game: by leaving the “will he, won’t he?” question open, he is ensuring he stays relevant.

He might be keeping his supporters waiting and America guessing, but it sure felt like the 2024 election campaign started in Florida last night.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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