Trump reverses course on elections, saying Republicans ‘must change our thinking’ on early and mail-in voting

Mar 4, 2023, 6:19 PM
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at the East Palestine Fire Department as he visits the ...
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at the East Palestine Fire Department as he visits the area in the aftermath of the Norfolk Southern train derailment Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. Trump’s lawyers in Georgia are criticizing the Fulton County investigation into potential illegal election meddling after the foreperson of the special grand jury seated to help the probe went public this week. (AP Photo/Matt Freed, File)
(AP Photo/Matt Freed, File)

(CNN) — Former President Donald Trump on Saturday said Republicans must “change our thinking” on early and mail-in voting after GOP losses in 2020 and 2022 — a dramatic reversal after years of falsehoods about those forms of voting being rife with fraud.

Trump, in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, said Republicans moving forward must try “beating the Democrats at their own game.”

“That means swamping the left with mail-in votes, early votes and Election Day votes,” he said.

What Trump didn’t mention: Republicans had long excelled at those tactics. But he spent years attempting to convince conservatives that early and mail-in votes could not be trusted, handing Democrats a massive advantage that was on display in President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory and in Republicans’ underwhelming showing in last year’s midterm elections.

He cited Kari Lake, the Republican who lost the Arizona governor’s race. Printer errors led to delays in some parts of Maricopa County on Election Day. All voters’ ballots were ultimately counted. Trump — while overstating the problems — said some Lake supporters did not wait in longer-than-expected lines, costing her votes.

“We have to change our thinking, because some bad things happened,” he said.

His remarks came during a nearly two-hour speech at CPAC in which he made the case that he can deliver conservatives “retribution” against Democrats and establishment Republicans. His remarks concluded the slimmed-down CPAC gathering, held at a convention center in Maryland just outside Washington, DC, as the 2024 presidential race begins to take shape and several high-profile Republicans prepare their bids to block Trump from winning the party’s nomination for a third consecutive cycle.

Trump said he will steer the GOP toward a more isolationist posture — a position that puts him at odds with his former United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, who has already launched her 2024 bid, and several other potential Republican presidential contenders.

“We are never going back to a party that wants to give unlimited money to fight foreign endless wars but demands we cut veteran benefits and retirement benefits at home,” Trump said.

He asserted that Biden is leading the nation into “oblivion” and other Republicans would not be able to correct course.

“I am the only candidate who can make this promise: I will prevent World War Three,” Trump said.

He took aim at several specific Republicans, telling the CPAC crowd the GOP is “never going back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and Jeb Bush,” referring to the former House speaker, former George W. Bush aide and former Florida governor. He also criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney by name.

Trump also suggested — as Biden had in his State of the Union speech — that some Republicans have argued for reforms to Social Security and Medicare as part of efforts to cut spending and reform government.

“We’re not going back to people that want to destroy our great Social Security system — even some in our own party; I wonder who that might be — who want to raise the minimum age of Social Security to 70, 75 or even 80 in some cases, and who are out to cut Medicare to a level that will be unrecognizable,” he said.

Trump is popular at the annual conservative gathering. He was the first choice of 62% of CPAC attendees who were asked who they preferred as the GOP nominee in 2024. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who did not attend this year’s event, finished second with 20% support. The straw poll is not a scientific survey and not representative of the broader GOP electorate, as it is limited to CPAC attendees.

Trump vowed to purge the government of “entrenched political dynasties in both parties.”

“In 2016, I declared: I am your voice. Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution,” Trump said. “Not going to let this happen. … I will totally obliterate the deep state. I will fire the unelected bureaucrats and shadow forces who have weaponized our justice system like it has never been weaponized before. And I will put the people back in charge of this country again.”

Trump’s remarks targeting transgender people seemed to draw the biggest applause Saturday. He said he would sign a measure “prohibiting child sexual mutilation in all 50 states,” and said he would “keep men out of women’s sports.”

Trump claimed that the country, as he sees it, “will be lost forever” if he does not prevail in 2024.

“This is the final battle — they know it, I know it, you know it, everybody knows it. Either they win, or we win. And I promise you this: If you put me back in the White House, their reign will be over, and America will be a free nation once again,” Trump said.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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Trump reverses course on elections, saying Republicans ‘must change our thinking’ on early and mail-in voting