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Back on stage, Donald Trump airs conspiracies and flirts with 2024 run

Former US president Donald Trump returned to the spotlight on Saturday for his first speech in months, framing next year’s midterm elections as a battle for the “survival of America” — but keeping followers guessing on his own plans for 2024.

Trump lapped up applause from Republican supporters as he described the United States as “being destroyed before our very own eyes” since he was voted out, and launched bitter criticism of his victorious rival President Joe Biden.

“The survival of America depends upon our ability to elect Republicans at every level, starting with the midterms next year,” Trump said. “We have to get it done. We have no choice actually. We’re going to defend our freedoms.”

Trump described 2024, the year of the next presidential election, as “a year that I look very much forward to” — drawing loud cheers from the audience in Greenville, North Carolina at the state’s Republican Party convention.

Addressing a sold-out crowd of about 1,250 for his first major speech since February, Trump, 74, appeared to lack much of the raw energy and enthusiasm that he often brought to his raucous, larger campaign rallies.

Verbal attacks against his favourite targets, including Biden’s border policy, China, “radical left Democrats,” and “critical race theory,” all triggered wild cheers.

In contrast, the crowd fell largely silent during his claims of successfully tackling Covid-19 and of developing the vaccines that have helped quell the pandemic.

Banished from social networks but no less influential among the party faithful, Trump has remained politically active since he left the White House in January.

On Saturday, he dismissed Facebook’s recent announcement his ban would be for two years for violating its rules over the deadly attack by his supporters on the US Capitol.

“I’m not too interested in that they may allow me back in two years… so unfair,” he said.

Again airing his false claims that election fraud denied him rightful victory last year, he said that “there’s no better example of the Democrat and media corruption than the 2020 election hoax… That election will go down as the crime of the century. “If you think people don’t see it. People see it,” he told the crowd, which included at least one woman wearing a “Trump won” cap.