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Trump declares himself a ‘political dissident’ at CPAC, capping a conference catered to conspiracies

By Steve Contorno, Aaron Pellish and Kit Maher, CNN

Oxon Hill, Maryland (CNN) — Former President Donald Trump declared himself a “proud political dissident” on Saturday, telling a conservative gathering that his reelection would be “liberation day” for his supporters and “judgement day” for his political enemies.

The striking choice of words, delivered in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, comes just days after Trump likened his legal plight to Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, the leading dissident of Russian President Vladimir Putin before he died this month in a state prison. Saturday’s remarks represented an undeniable escalation of that rhetoric.

“In many ways, we’re living in hell right now, because the fact is, Joe Biden is a threat to democracy,” Trump told a standing-room-only CPAC audience. “I stand before you today, not only as your past and hopefully future president but as a proud political dissident. I am a dissident.”

The comments capped a four-day gathering heavily influenced by the most conspiratorial elements of Trump’s movement. Inside CPAC – taking place in Maryland, across the Potomac River from the site of Trump’s failed and unconstitutional attempts to hold on to power – the former president is the rightful current president, mail-in voting is rife with fraud, and a revisionist retelling of the bloody January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol is accepted as fact.

A year after telling CPAC, “I am your retribution” – the early seeds for his campaign of retaliation that has dominated his stump speeches since launching his third White House bid – Trump on Saturday shared a new definition of political vengeance that stopped short of punishing his opponents.

“Your liberty will be our ultimate reward, and the unprecedented success of the United States of America will be my ultimate and absolute revenge,” he said. “That’s what I want. Success will be our revenge.”

Others speaking at CPAC, though, remained committed to a more exacting fight.

“If the regime is going to change the rules so Trump can be prosecuted, (former President Barack) Obama must be prosecuted,” said Tom Fitton, president of the right-wing legal advocacy group Judicial Watch, evoking chants of “Lock him up” from the audience.

As Trump addressed CPAC, voters in South Carolina headed to the polls for the Republican presidential primary. There, the former president is battling the state’s former governor, Nikki Haley, who says she is committed to challenging Trump through Super Tuesday.

Haley, though, went unmentioned during Trump’s remarks in Maryland – an animated 90-minute speech in which he shared stories of flying on Air Force One and mimicked President Joe Biden’s mannerisms.

Instead, Trump’s address set the stage for the general election and his likely rematch with Biden.

In a speech cloaked in dark imagery, Trump predicted a dystopian America under a second Biden term, suggesting the nation will be beset by “constant blackouts” and “rampant inflation,” accompanied by spikes in illegal border crossings and foreign policy decisions that he said will lead to “World War III.”

“If crooked Joe Biden and his thugs win in 2024, the worst is yet to come. Our country will go and sink to levels that were unimaginable,” he said. “These are the stakes of this election. Our country is being destroyed, and the only thing standing between you and its obliteration is me.”

A vote for him, he said, is a “ticket back to freedom.”

Biden’s campaign in a press release called Trump’s remarks “bizarre” and said Trump and Republicans are the ones who want to pull back freedoms.

“Donald Trump is 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,” Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa said.

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