Former President Donald Trump blasted President Joe Biden over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, boasting onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference Saturday night that the deadly assault wouldn’t have happened on his watch.
He also riled up the crowd by almost immediately teasing a 2024 presidential run.
The ex-president was critized by Biden and others this week for complimenting the Russian leader and calling him ‘smart’ in the lead-up to the invasion.
‘The problem is not that Putin is smart, of course he’s smart, but the real problem is that our leaders are dumb,’ Trump said.
Trump also immediately teased another presidential run.
Savoring the size of the CPAC crowd, Trump talked about his movement and suggested his supporters would vote Republicans back in power, warning Democrats it’s a ‘sleeping giant they have awoken.’
‘On November 2024 they will find out like never before,’ he told the crowd.
‘We did it twice and we’ll do it again,’ he added, alluding to the so-called ‘big lie.’
Early on, Trump gave a shout-out to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who’s facing criticism after speaking before a white nationalist conference Friday.
‘A person who’s very shy, doesn’t like speaking her mind but she does it anyway,’ Trump remarked of Greene.
President Donald Trump spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference Saturday night in Orlando, Florida
Prior to his speech, Trump appeared at a VIP reception for his Save America PAC, where McDonald’s and Diet Cokes – a Trump favorite – were served, according to Insider.
There, he told attendees that they would be very happy when asked when he might announce his 2024 intentions.
He’s made a similar tease before.
Trump was also asked about a potential VP pick.
‘I know who you don’t want as your VP,’ he said, according to The New York Times.
Former President Donald Trump was spotted golfing Friday at his West Palm Beach, Florida club in advance of his Saturday night primetime speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando
The ex-president, driving a golf cart, was wearing his trademark ‘Make America Great Again’ hat with ’45’ on the side, as he was the 45th president
Former President Donald Trump was out golfing Friday at his West Palm Beach resort in advance of his CPAC speech Saturday night
The former president looks in the direction of DailyMail.com’s camera as he plays golf Friday in West Palm Beach, Florida, near his Mar-a-Lago resort
Former President Donald Trump’s golf partners were also sporting Trump-branded attire
On Friday, DailyMail.com captured Trump golfing at his West Palm Beach, Florida club in advance of his CPAC appearance.
The ex-president sported his trademark ‘Make America Great Again’ ballcap, a white polo shirt and dark slacks – and golfed with several partners, also clad in Trump-branded attire.
Trump’s speech comes as he’s taken heat for laudatory comments he made this week about Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as the leader mounted a deadly assault on Ukraine.
The ex-president called Putin ‘pretty smart’ on Wednesday as the invasion was imminent, following similar comments Trump made after Putin declared two regions of Ukraine ‘independent’ earlier this week.
‘If I were in Office, this deadly Ukraine situation would never have happened!’ Trump claimed in a statement Thursday night.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki hit back at Trump on Tuesday and then on Saturday President Joe Biden chimed in.
‘I put as much stock in Trump saying that Putin’s a genius as I do when he called himself a stable genius,’ Biden said in an interview with political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen.
The Republicans considered prospects for 2024 handled Trump’s comments in different ways.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, didn’t mention the Ukraine crisis at all during his Thursday night CPAC address.
Earlier this week, Cruz had commended Biden’s decision to allow sanctions to go forward on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline operators – releasing a hold on Biden’s State Department nominees to they could get Senate-confirmed.
Cruz later turned around and said Biden’s previous decision to put in place sanction waivers on the Nord Stream project likely amounted to a ‘surrender to Putin,’ he told CBS Thursday.
During the same interview, he declined to criticize Trump.
‘His rhetoric I – with some regularity – disagree with,’ Cruz said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also didn’t broach foreign policy when he opened up the conference on Thursday.
In his speech Friday morning, Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged that there were differing opinions on the conflict with the modern Republican Party.
‘No matter where you stand on this Ukraine-Russia situation – what we should have done beforehand, what we should do now – the one thing I think everyone can agree upon, is that the people of Ukraine are inspiring to the world,’ the Florida senator told the crowd.
Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who has also been criticized for recent complimentary comments about Putin – wouldn’t play take-backsies with his previous statements, but toughened up his rhetoric on Putin onstage in Orlando.
‘We’ve seen a Russian dictator now terrorize the Ukrainian people because America didn’t demonstrate the resolve that we did for the four years prior,’ Pompeo said Friday morning.
Cruz, DeSantis, Rubio and Pompeo are among those being talked about for 2024, though the GOP field will be defined by whether Trump decides to again pursue the White House.
The strongest rebuttal to Trump’s comments came Saturday at CPAC from his former national security adviser Robert O’Brien.
‘Make no mistake, Putin is a killer who wants to rebuild the Russian Empire,’ he said. ‘He is not a person to be admired no matter how charming or clever he is portrayed to be.’
And GOP Rep. Byron Donalds scoffed that some in his party had a favorable view of the Russian leader in an interview with DailyMail.com at CPAC.
‘The reality is that nobody’s a fan of Putin,’ he said. ‘But the fact of the matter is that Joe Biden has exhibited weak leadership, he was late to the game.’
But a number of speakers also embraced Trump’s ‘America First.’
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz questioned, ‘Why should Americans have to pay the cost of freedom elsewhere when our own leader wont’ stand up for our own freedom here?’
‘That’s why we have higher costs and fewer choices today,’ the Florida Republican said.
‘Now we’ve got to foot the bill for Ukraine? Endure more pain? We’re still feeling the pain from Afghanistan misadventures,’ he stated.
He said the U.S. didn’t have to give money to other countries to hate us. ‘They will probably do it for free,’ he said.
‘I’m not for sending Americans ot Ukraine – except maybe one. If the Russians want to destabilize Ukraine, they didn’t need to send tanks – they could have sent Dr. Fauci,’ Gaetz said. ‘My constituents fear Dr. Fauci far more than a moder-day incarnation of Dr. Strangelove.’
Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, who is running as a Republican for Senate in Ohio, doubled down on comments he previously made arguing the U.S. should focus more on the Mexican border crisis and the Canadian trucker protests than Ukraine.
‘I’ve gotten a lot of flack in the last week because I have the audacity to suggest before our leaders obsess over a Ukrainian-Russian border 6000 miles away, maybe they better guarantee the sovereignty of their own country and their own border force,’ Vance said at CPAC Saturday.
He blasted U.S. leadership for being ‘constantly focused on stuff that has nothing to do’ with the ‘middle class citizens of our state of Ohio.’
‘And ladies and gentlemen, it’s just time to stop, I’m sick of it,’ Vance said. ‘I’m sick of being told that we have to care more about people 6,000 miles away than we do people like my mom, and my grandparents, and all the kids who are affected by this crisis.’
Vance – whose mother is a recovered addict – talked largely about the opioid crisis, being fueled by Fentanyl coming over the U.S.-Mexico border.
Sharing Vance’s comments on Ukraine, Fox News Channel’s Brit Hume tweeted Saturday, ‘I have rarely lost as much respect for a person in a short a time as I have for J.D. Vance.’
Overall, CPAC was a Trumpworld reunion, with a number of ex-White House officials and political allies roaming the halls.
DailyMail.com spotted former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and deputies Hogan Gidley and Judd Deere.
Trump’s original National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was in attendance.
My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell was on-site.
And some of Trump’s chosen candidates were there as well – including Max Miller of Ohio, who is vying to replace the retiring GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an impeachment backer, and Kelly Tshibaka, taking on Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who said Trump should be convicted for inciting an insurrection.
Murkowski, a sitting Republican senator, got booed by the crowd when Tshibaka name-dropped her.
MAGA swag was everywhere.
And candidates trying to get Trump’s endorsement propped up the so-called ‘big lie.’
Josh Mandel, running for the GOP nomination for the Senate seat GOP Sen. Rob Portman is leaving, said onstage Friday that ‘the liberal media gets up in arms, and the squishy Rino Republicans get up in arms, but I want to say it very clearly and very directly: I believe this election was stolen from Donald J. Trump.’
‘You know the Liz Cheneys the Adam Kinzingers, these are traitors,’ he continued.
Parroting what Trump has previously said Mandel added, ‘We should should abolish the January 6 Commission and replace it with a November 3 Commission.’
Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, an ex-news anchor herself, had the crowd turn around to face and boo the media section, asking reporters directly: ‘Why won’t you tell us the truth about the 2020 election?’
‘You owe it to the people of this country to be honest about what happened! We know what happened!’ Lake said.
At CPAC in Orlando this week, MAGA swag was everywhere