Former US President Donald Trump has said he has no plans to form a new political party, promising instead to unite a Republican Party that has splintered after his supporters overran the United States Capitol in a deadly riot.
In his first major speech since he left the White House last month, Trump said the GOP is “going to unite and be stronger than ever before”.
“I am not starting a new party. That was fake news,” he told the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Sunday afternoon.
“We will be united and strong like never before. We will save and strengthen America and we will fight the onslaught of radicalism, socialism and indeed, it all leads to communism,” said Trump, who spent much of his speech hitting out at US President Joe Biden.
Trump repeated his false claims the November presidential election was stolen from him and also hinted at another possible presidential run.
“They just lost the White House,” Trump said. “But who knows, who knows, I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”
His supporters have dominated this year’s conference, held in Florida due to the state’s loose restrictions on gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the country’s largest annual gathering of Republicans and conservatives, CPAC typically indicates the direction of the Republican Party and its supporters.
While past meetings have served as a forum for debate between a broad coalition of US conservatives, attendees of this year’s meeting devoted the weekend to expressing their commitment to Trump and affirming his continuing dominance of the party.
The event comes as deep divides have emerged within the Republican Party after the Capitol insurrection on January 6 and weeks of false claims by Trump and his supporters that the election was marred by widespread voter fraud.
‘At war with itself’
Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from Orlando on Sunday, said the conference has brought together “the pro-Trump side of the Republican Party” – the party, he said, is currently “at war with itself”.
Pro-Trump Republicans defended Trump amid accusations he incited the mob of his supporters that overran the Capitol building, while others publicly criticised him and some even voted for his impeachment.
Republican legislators who have been critical of Trump, including Congresswoman Liz Cheney and former Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, were not welcome at the conference, Hendren said.
“This is his effort to control that party,” Hendren reported.
Trump supporters travelled from across the country to see the former president’s first remarks since he left office in January.
Hats, shirts and other pro-Trump paraphernalia were on display at the conference, where attendees took photos alongside a gold statue of the former president.
Vickie Froehlich, who served as a delegate at the Republican National Convention when Trump was first nominated in 2016, came to CPAC from Minneapolis, Minnesota. If Republicans abandon Trump, she said, “it would be a huge mistake”.
“I think he has been great for our country. He’s very popular still,” Froehlich told Al Jazeera.
Speakers who took the stage during the weekend, including Senators Rick Scott of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, announced support for continuing Trump’s political mission.
In panel discussions, legislators and activists also argued against the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election results and warned of left-wing conspiracies to silence conservative speech.
“I’m not backing down,” said Hawley, one of the Republican senators who voted to overturn the results of the US election, which earned him an extended standing ovation at the conference. “Not a chance! Not a chance!”
Chris Moody contributed to this report from Orlando, Florida