“All of a Sudden They’re Trying to Take You Out With Bullshit.”
“There’s so much love in this room,” President Donald Trump said to the crowd of adoring right-wing activists who came out to see him speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, this morning. He smiled. “It’s easy to talk. You can talk your heart out.”
And so he did. In a rambling, largely ad-libbed speech that stretched over two hours, Trump veered wildly from topic to topic, slamming the Mueller investigation and related “bullshit”; mocking Democrats such as “little shifty [Rep. Adam] Schiff” and Sen. Mazie Hirono (“the crazy female senator from…Hawaii”), former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and his other foes; riffing on trade, Syria, and health care; and hyping his 2020 reelection campaign. “You know I’m totally off script now,” he said at one point. “This is how I got elected—by being off script.”
Keeping track of Trump’s train of thought wasn’t easy. (Toronto Star correspondent Daniel Dale, a veteran Trump speech-watcher, called the speech “extraordinarily bizarre.”) Here were some of the more memorable—and odder—moments:
- “They’re trying to take you out with bullshit”: Three days after Michael Cohen accused Trump of crimes before the House Oversight committee, Trump avoided mentioning his former lawyer by name. But he dismissed Cohen’s allegations and slammed him for a lack of loyalty: “You put the wrong people in a couple of positions, and they leave people for a long time that shouldn’t be there, and all of a sudden they’re trying to take you out with bullshit.” He also praised “the great” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), for fighting “so hard” against the investigations into Trump’s business dealings and relationships with Russia.
- A new executive order: Trump announced that he would soon sign an executive order requiring universities to protect free speech on campus, putting their federal funding in jeopardy if they do not. He called Hayden Williams onstage and praised the conservative activist for taking a punch last month at the University of California-Berkeley, where he had been recruiting for a right-wing youth group. “Sue the college, the university, and maybe sue the student,” Trump urged him. Williams, he added, “is going to be a very wealthy young man.”
- “Great, historic progress” in talks with North Korea: Trump’s negotiations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un collapsed on Thursday. But in his CPAC speech, Trump said his relations with the country are “going well.” “North Korea has an incredible, brilliant economic future if they make a deal,” he said. He also talked about “beautiful, beautiful Otto” Warmbier, the American student who died after being imprisoned in North Korea. Earlier in the week, Trump said he believed Kim’s claims that he knew nothing about Warmbier’s treatment. Trump lamented that Warmbier’s death had put him in “a horrible position.”
- Doubling down on false claims about immigration: It took almost 90 minutes for Trump to land on some of his favorite refrains about immigration. He repeatedly suggested that many immigrants are criminals. Referring to the migrant caravans from Central America, he said, “some are phenomenal people, but in those caravans you have stone cold killers.” He returned to the infamous line from his 2015 campaign launch that immigrants who cross the US-Mexico border are criminals and rapists. “From day one, I mentioned the word rape. That was so innocent compared to what’s really happening,” Trump said. “We are being invaded. We are being invaded by drugs, by people, by criminals.”
- False claims about “extreme late term abortion”: In January, New York passed a law that permits women to get an abortion after 24 weeks “if their health is threatened or the fetus isn’t viable.” (Previously, abortions after 24 weeks were banned in New York unless the life of the mother was threatened.) After a lurid description of a doctor taking a living baby from its parents’ arms, Trump falsely claimed that the law would allow doctors to “execute the baby after birth.”
- “You’re a great president”: Trump claimed that he recently received a call from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat whose state has sued the Trump administration more than 45 times, in which the newly elected governor told him. Newsom, he claimed, “called me up and said, ‘You’re a great president. You’re doing a great job.’”
- Crowd size, again: Throughout his speech, Trump returned to the theme of crowd size, relitigating the size of his 2017 inauguration (“it was all a phony deal”), and at one point repeating a false claim that 55,000 people attended a rally he spoke at in Georgia last year.
Parts of the speech seemed like a preview of how he plans to frame his 2020 campaign for his Republican base. Democrats, he said, are “embracing open borders, socialism and extreme late-term abortion.” Around minute 75, Trump seemed to realize he’d already said too much. “I’m going to regret this speech,” he said, leaning into the microphone. “This speech should have been delivered one year from now—not now, damn it.”