NATIONAL HARBOR, United States (AFP) — US President Donald Trump prepared Saturday to address a conference of right-wing activists, capping a turbulent week that included a failed summit with North Korea and explosive testimony by his former lawyer branding him a criminal.
The White House has not previewed the themes of the president’s speech at the National Harbor near Washington, his third in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) since he was elected.
But the president took to Twitter to confirm he would be speaking at 11:30 am (1630 GMT), telling followers: “Record crowd, live broadcast. Enjoy!”
Commentators were expecting him to play to his base, however, on red-meat issues such as border security, Second Amendment gun rights and the dangers of “socialism” — the overriding theme at this year’s CPAC.
The word has been in heavy rotation since Democratic candidates began openly embracing liberal platforms including a sweeping plan to fight climate change, known as the Green New Deal, and expanding health care coverage.
Amid the “Make America Great Again” caps and “Trump 2020” rhinestone pins, a button on the lapels of the many attendees to the four-day conference reflects what may well become the next Republican campaign theme: “Socialism SUCKS.”
Vice President Mike Pence made the political pilgrimage on Friday to CPAC to warn the faithful that Democrats are taking a “hard left turn” ahead of 2020.
“Under the guise of Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, Democrats are embracing the same tired economic theories that have impoverished nations and stifled the liberties of millions over the last century. That system is socialism,” he said.
Voters must choose “between freedom and socialism, between personal responsibility and government dependence,” Pence said, as he highlighted the ongoing economic crisis in Venezuela under its socialist rule.
“This is the choice we face in the next 20 months,” he added.
Trump will hope his speech can serve as a diversion to the federal investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia and testimony this week on Capitol Hill by the president’s former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen implicating him in crimes.
Cohen, about to go to prison after being convicted of lying under oath, took the oath again Wednesday in an extraordinarily theatrical congressional hearing.
In December a court sentenced Cohen, who worked for Trump for over a decade as his lawyer and vice president in the Trump Organization, to three years in prison for hush-money payments to two women and for lies to Congress — both of which he said were to protect Trump — as well as for tax evasion.
In dramatic congressional testimony Wednesday broadcast across the world on cable and US network channels, Cohen turned on his former boss, using the big stage to describe Trump as a “mobster,” “con man,” “cheat” and a “racist.”
Meanwhile in Vietnam, a high-stakes second summit between Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un broke up in disarray Thursday, without even a joint statement after the pair failed to reach an agreement on walking back Pyongyang’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Both sides said they were open to further talks, though a third summit has not been scheduled.