Trump calls himself 'proud political dissident' in CPAC speech

He speaks in Maryland as Republicans vote in South Carolina
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump hugs and kisses the American flag as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2024, at National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Md., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Posted at 6:03 PM, Feb 24, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-24 18:03:33-05

OXON HILL, Md. — Former President Donald Trump cast November's presidential election as "judgment day" and declared himself a "proud political dissident" during a speech before conservative activists outside of Washington Saturday as he again cloaked his campaign in religious imagery.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference on the day of South Carolina's Republican primary, Trump painted an apocalyptic vision of the future if President Joe Biden wins a second term as the two prepare for an expected rematch election.

"For hardworking Americans, Nov. 5 will be our new liberation day. But for the liars and cheaters and fraudsters and censors and imposters who have commandeered our government, it will be judgment day," he said to loud applause. "When we win, the curtain closes on their corrupt reign and the sun rises on a bright new future for America."

Trump also cast himself as a "proud political dissident" days after comparing himself to Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, the top political opponent of Russia's autocratic leader Vladimir Putin, who died in a remote Arctic prison after being jailed by the Kremlin leader.

"I stand before you today only as your past and hopefully future president, but as a proud political dissident. I am a dissident," he told the crowd.

Trump was speaking at this year's CPAC gathering as voters headed to the polls in South Carolina. The former president is widely expected to beat his last remaining Republican primary rival, Nikki Haley, in the state where she served as governor for two terms. While Haley has vowed to remain in the race until next month's "Super Tuesday" — when more than a dozen states will vote — Trump's campaign is hoping he can reach the delegate threshold to clinch the nomination in March.

Last year, Trump used his speech at CPAC to tell his supporters that his 2024 campaign would be one of "retribution."

"In 2016, I declared: I am your voice. Today I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution," he said then.

This time, he cast himself as a savior standing between his supporters and near-anarchy as he spoke of "hoards of illegal aliens stampeding across our borders," warned the country's social safety net and education system would "buckle and collapse," and claimed that, "he gangs will be invading your territory."

"These are the stakes of this election: Our country is being destroyed and the only thing standing between you and its obliteration."

"A vote for Trump is your ticket back to freedom, it’s your passport out of tyranny and it's your only escape from Joe Biden and his gang's fast track to hell. And in many ways, we’re living in hell right now," he said, adding that: "The unprecedented success of the United States of America will be my ultimate and absolute revenge."

Violent crime is, in fact, down nationwide, according to the most recent FBI statistics. And despite public perception, recent data on the economy has shown that growth accelerated last year while inflation returned closer to the Federal Reserve's 2% target, proving wrong Wall Street and academic economists who had been predicting a recession.

This year's CPAC conference has featured a parade of Republican lawmakers and MAGA personalities who have echoed Trump’s attacks on Biden's border policies, his handling of the economy and Trump’s assertion that the 91 felony charges he faces across four separate jurisdictions are nothing more than a baseless attempt by the Biden administration to damage his candidacy. There's no evidence that Biden influenced the charges in any way.

In response to Trump's speech, Ammar Moussa, the Biden campaign's rapid response director, called the former president a "loser."

"Under his presidency, America lost more jobs than any president in modern history, women in more than 20 states have lost the freedom to make their own health care decisions because Trump overturned Roe, and the MAGA wing of the Republican Party lost their damn minds putting Trump's quest for power over our democracy," Moussa said in a statement.

The lineup has featured a handful of Republican vice presidential hopefuls including former candidate Vivek Ramaswamy and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, as well as foreign leaders like El Salvador's president, Nayib Bukele, former British Prime Minister Liz Truss, and the president of Argentina, right-wing populist Javier Milei.


Colvin reported from Columbia, South Carolina.