WASHINGTON — For the first time since leaving the nation’s capital under the cloud of the Jan. 6 insurrection, former President Donald Trump returned on Tuesday and delivered a speech that painted America as having become a “cesspool of crime” under his successor.
Speaking to the America First Policy Institute, a think tank that employs many of his own former White House aides, Trump used the occasion to preview the possible themes of a likely third bid for the White House in 2024. Those included promises to crack down on crime in America’s major cities, finish the border wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and relocate urban homeless encampments across the country.
“Our country is now a cesspool of crime. We have blood, death and suffering on a scale once unthinkable because of the Democratic Party’s effort to destroy and dismantle law enforcement,” Trump said in the speech.
Other likely top-tier Republican presidential contenders — particularly Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — have been chipping away at Trump’s grip on the GOP steadily for more than 18 months, according to numerous polls. While Trump remains the de facto frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, Tuesday’s speech began somewhat cautiously, with Trump sticking to the remarks fed to him on a teleprompter that largely avoided referencing the riot at the Capitol by his supporters or his own baseless claims that election fraud had cost him victory in 2020.
Earlier in the day, Mike Pence, his former vice president, received a warm response in Washington for a campaign-style speech delivered at the annual conference of the Young America’s Foundation. In contrast, Trump’s address began flatly. But as he often does at his speeches and rallies, he veered off course a bit when the audience burst into laughter in response to an off-the-cuff remark about transgender athletes.
“We should not allow men to play in women’s sports,” Trump said, getting the loudest applause of the afternoon. He then launched into an extended riff alleging that men were jumping into swimming pools and dominating women athletes and that a man named “Alice” would handily beat a woman weightlifter attempting to lift 218 pounds.
Trump, who has reportedly been itching to announce that he is once again running for president, went on to attack the House Jan. 6 select committee. The panel’s astounding revelations, built on testimony from Trump’s own aides and family, have convinced many that Trump directed a multipronged effort to deny his election loss and attempted to lead an armed mob to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“They really want to damage me so I can’t go back to work for you,” Trump said. “And I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
With that implication, Trump’s speech had come full circle, linking crime to the Democrats who remained in power after his exit from Washington and those who sought to investigate him further.