CPAC 2024 Presents a Vision of a Second Trump Administration

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort Hotel and Convention Center on February 24, 2024, in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland—When Tom Fitton, president of the pro-Trump legal nonprofit Judicial Watch, took the stage at the 2024 Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, he began his remarks by joking that he felt like he was the “only one here not running for vice president.” The crowd laughed, and Fitton added: “Although who knows what will happen, right? Maybe the FBI needs some help or a new director, how about that?”

It’s unclear whether Fitton, who is not a lawyer and holds a B.A. in English, would actually have a senior law enforcement role in a second Trump administration, but the crowd gathered at CPAC 2024 loved his vision for the Department of Justice’s agenda in a second Trump term. 

When Fitton said that “if the regime is going to change the rules so Donald Trump can be prosecuted, Obama must be prosecuted,” the crowd immediately erupted into cheers of “Lock him up! Lock him up! Lock him up!”

But what exactly would Obama be prosecuted for? In his speech, Fitton didn’t identify any crimes committed by the former Democratic president. When The Dispatch caught up with Fitton in the hallway afterward, he said that “if the new rules are that you can be indicted for conduct while in office—official conduct—there’s all sorts of issues that could be pursued.” Anything specific? “Fast and Furious, droning American citizens. You pick it.” The message, in effect, was that turnabout is fair play. 

Revenge was an important theme in Trump’s CPAC speech too, just as it was last year. In March 2023, the last time polling ever suggested that Trump faced a serious threat in the GOP primary, he made headlines at CPAC with the pledge: “I am your warrior; I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. I am your retribution.” Trump went on to explain how he would fulfill that pledge: “I will totally obliterate the deep state. I will fire the unelected bureaucrats and shadow forces who have weaponized our justice system.”

But at CPAC 2024, with the GOP nomination in the bag, Trump modified his message in a notable way. “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 told the crowd on Saturday. His 2024 CPAC speech focused more on sealing the border, drilling for oil, and achieving peace through strength. On Saturday, the two-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Trump claimed the invasion never would have happened if he were president: “Remember, they said Obama gave pillows and Trump gave Javelins.” He claimed Israel would have never been attacked on October 7, 2023, because “Iran was broke” due to sanctions and that while he would have gotten the United States out of Afghanistan he would have never given up Bagram Air Base because it is located near western China.

With that said, Trump’s 2024 CPAC speech certainly indicated he thinks there is more to exacting revenge than enacting MAGA policies. While Election Day 2024 would be “liberation day” for hard-working Americans, Trump said, “for the liars and cheaters and fraudsters and censors and imposters who have commandeered our government, it will be their judgment day.”

Trump portrayed himself as a victim and “political dissident” and warned that “Joe Biden is a threat to democracy” who is “surrounded by some very bad fascists.” Perhaps the darkest hint of what Trump might really like to do to his personal enemies came when he compared himself to Al Capone. “I’ve been indicted more than Alphonse Capone,” Trump told the CPAC crowd. “If he had dinner with you and he didn’t like the smile on your face—he thought you were mocking him by smiling—you would be dead before you got home and said hello to your wife.” 

Trump didn’t dwell on the point, and his meandering 90-minute speech was as much a sprawling stand-up comedy act as it was a menacing politico manifesto. He had the crowd rolling with laughter when he did his impersonation of Biden lost and wandering around the stage, and he earned even bigger laughs when he tried his hand at slightly self-deprecating humor. Trump revealed that he was so nervous flying into Iraq for a visit one time that he was sweating profusely and considered awarding himself the Congressional Medal of Honor. The military pilots who flew him to Baghdad were the “most handsome human beings I’ve ever seen. It’s not my thing, but they’re handsome!” 

“Central casting,” he continued. “Better looking than Tom Cruise. And taller!”

For Trump, of course, there is no higher praise than to be considered “central casting.” And when he name-checked several other CPAC speakers on Saturday, one couldn’t help but wonder if he was offering a lineup of what a second Trump administration might look like. “Tom [Fitton] always looks good. I think he does that weightlifting stuff,” Trump said. “Bannon looks good. We love Steve,” Trump said of the former White House chief strategist he once derided as “Sloppy Steve” after he fired him in 2017. Trump also singled out for praise 2024 GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio, former White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, former Director of National Intelligence Ric Grennell, and former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Kevin Hassett.

When Hassett spoke on a Saturday panel, he acknowledged people sometimes ask “why would anyone go back” to work for Trump. “I have so many stories about how much fun it was to work with this guy and how generous he was,” Hassett said, before recounting a story about how Trump had taken personal interest in a staffer who had cancer. “By the end, President Trump had a team of loyal people that he had tested, and they were willing to stay in even with, like, all the difficulties and everything,” Hassett continued. “And I’m sure that they would go back.” 

Those unnamed “difficulties” would seem to include the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, an incident that spurred several top Trump White House officials and Cabinet members to resign. The fallout from January 6 would also severely limit the number and type of people who would want to serve in a second Trump administration.

For example, someone like Bill Barr, the Trump attorney general who resigned over Trump’s post-election conduct in 2020, would be persona non grata in a second Trump term. So who might fill that key post? CPAC attendee Chris Allen of Kansas told The Dispatch he’d like to see Mike Davis (a former Senate Judiciary Committee counsel who has gained notoriety for his inflammatory rhetoric) or Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton serve as U.S. attorney general in order to investigate prior administrations and the “Russiagate” probe into Trump. “I think [Ted] Cruz would be pretty darn good,” Allen said of a potential Trump Supreme Court pick. 

CPAC attendee Stephen Reznik of New Jersey also said he’d like to see Paxton serving as U.S. attorney general because he’s been a stalwart on “election integrity” and trying to “help the J6ers … who’ve been overcharged.” Christine from Haymarket, Virginia, told The Dispatch that while “Fitton would be a great” Department of Justice official, she hoped the administration wouldn’t get too bogged down in investigations. That hope, of course, seems to run directly contrary to the vision of retribution outlined by Fitton himself and the man whom he’d be serving.

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