Former US president Donald Trump has returned to public limelight with a speech in North Carolina in which he exhorted Republicans to gear up for the 2022 midterm elections; repeated allegations over his election loss, attacked top epidemiologist Anthony Fauci, and called for China to pay $10 trillion in “reparations” for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Trump spoke at a convention of North Carolina Republicans, which his advisers have said will be the first of more such events.
“The survival of America depends on our ability to elect Republicans at every level starting with the midterms next year;” Trump said in a characteristically rambling speech that lasted nearly 90 minutes.
Republicans are hoping to win the House of Representatives in the 2022 midterm elections; closing and overtaking their eight-seat deficit in the 435-member chamber (they trail 211 to 219 Democrats, with five vacancies), and the 100-member senate; which they split evenly with Democrats.
Midterms have tended to favour the party not holding the White House.
Trump has managed to keep a tight grip on the Republican Party despite the initial outrage felt among many over his incitement of the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, which houses the two chambers of US congress, as his party’s base, which plays a key role in the party primaries, remains largely loyal to him.
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“We are going to have a tremendous 2022 like we did frankly in 2020; more votes than any sitting president in the history of the US. We had a great election. Bad things happened, but we had a great election;” Trump said, repeating claims of election fraud that were dismissed by more than 60 times by courts and the authorities.
Since leaving office, Trump has kept a relatively lower profile. Deprived of social media accounts; — Twitter has banned him permanently and Facebook and Instagram have suspended him until January 2023 — communicating largely through short statements, some interviews and advisers.
He has teased a run for the White House in 2024 but has not committed himself to it yet.
“We’re gonna take back the Senate, take back the House, we’re gonna take back the White House, and sooner than you think;” he said in a short fundraising video released ahead of the North Carolina speech.
The former president went on to attack the Biden administration in his speech. “As we gather tonight; our country is being destroyed before our very own eyes. Crime is exploding, police departments are being ripped apart and defunded;” he said. He called the surge of immigrants at the border the start of the “Biden disasters”, criticised the president for rejoining the Paris climate accord and for his proposal to raise corporate tax.
“Drugs are pouring in, gas prices are soaring, our industries are being pillaged by foreign cyberattacks,” he went on to say.
“That’s a lack of respect for our country and our leaders.” Trump was referring to recent cyber-hacking of US companies.
Experts pointed out that the most sweeping and egregious of them — the SolarWinds attack — took place on his watch.
The former president also attacked Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying he is “not a great doctor; but a hell of a promoter”. Trump clashed with Fauci even while in office, which turned the epidemiologist into a target for the then president’s supporters.
“Fauci said at the beginning, ‘no masks.’ Remember that? Then he became a radical masker. Get three, four. Get a pair of goggles, ideally. Wear them for another five or six years,” Trump said to laughter.
The former president also doubled down on China over the Covid-19 pandemic; even as his administration was accused of poor handling of the public health crisis.
“The time has come for America and the world to demand reparations and accountability from the Communist Party of China. We should all declare with one unified voice that China must pay — they must pay;” he said, going on to suggest the amount be around $10 trillion, with extra tariff.
Turning to his own legal troubles, he dismissed them as an extension of the “five-year witch-hunt”; he said he had faced from the time he announced his candidature for the White House.
He called the Manhattan district attorney’s case “the ultimate fishing expedition”. “It’s been a five-year witch hunt; hoax after hoax,” he added. “They’ll never stop until November of 2024.”