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CPAC: Trump to return to political stage at conservative conference

media captionThe BBC’s Anthony Zurcher visits a coffee shop in Florida for people on the political right

Donald Trump will give his first speech since leaving office as US president later on Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

It comes just weeks after he was acquitted during an impeachment trial which saw some members of his own Republican party vote against him.

Mr Trump is expected to attack the actions being taken by successor Joe Biden in the Florida speech.

The CPAC appearance represents his continued influence over Republicans.

The mood of the conference so far has been extremely pro-Trump, with loyalists including Texas Senator Ted Cruz and his son Donald Trump Jr among the speakers confirmed.

Mr Trump’s speech is being hotly anticipated by his supporters, given his relative absence from the political spotlight since leaving office.

The former president remains banned from social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, over his response to January’s deadly riot at the US Capitol.

He has been living at his Mar-a-Lago Florida golf resort since leaving the White House.

What is Donald Trump expected to say?

According to prepared script excerpts sent by his office ahead of time, Mr Trump will attack early actions by President Joe Biden during the speech – especially on immigration.

He is also set to focus on what he will describe as the future of “our movement” during the speech, amid a divide among some Republicans over the party’s future political direction.

Mr Trump is expected to say that “incredible journey” that he and supporters “began together four years ago is far from over”. But the former president is not expected to confirm another presidential run in 2024 yet, according to a senior advisor quoted by CBS.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionPro-Trump memorabilia, including this golden statue, has been on display

Mr Trump’s son, Donald Jr, trailed his father’s appearance during his own speech on Friday.

“I imagine it will not be what we call a low energy speech, and I assure you that it will solidify Donald Trump and all of your feelings about the Maga [Make America Great Again] movement as the future of the Republican party,” he told attendees.

image copyrightReuters

image captionMr Trump’s eldest son hit out at Representative Liz Cheney for voting to impeach his father

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionPolitical advisor Roger Stone, who Mr Trump pardoned, also appeared at the event

Members of his party remained largely loyal to Mr Trump during his time in office but 10 voted to impeach him in the House of Representatives last month and seven voted to convict him in the subsequent Senate trial. The overall tally, 57-43 in favour of his guilt, fell short of the two-thirds margin needed to convict Mr Trump.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in congress, criticised the former president’s actions after his acquittal – declaring Mr Trump “practically and morally responsible” for provoking the riot, despite personally voting against his guilt on the incitement charge.

media captionMcConnell: “No question, Trump is practically and morally responsible”

The schism in the party has remained since, with those who have broken rank against him notably absent from the CPAC stage.

The conference, which began in 1974, is seen as the most influential gathering of US Conservatives and a barometer of the Republican party’s political direction.

Despite losing November’s presidential election and being deeply criticised over the January riot by some of his supporters, reports suggest Mr Trump remains extremely popular among his voting base.

There has been much speculation about the 74-year-old’s future political plans following his electoral defeat.

What else has happened at CPAC?

The conference began on Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Orlando.

Trump loyalists like Senator Josh Hawley and Representative Matt Gaetz have been on the bill so far with other major figures like former Vice President Mike Pence and Mr McConnell notably absent.

Many speakers have focused on the importance of “blue-collar workers” to the party in their speeches.

Senator Ted Cruz appeared on Friday on the back of his own political controversy regarding his decision to fly to Cancun with his family during a deadly winter storm in Texas.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionMr Cruz alleged “liberty is under assault” during his conference speech

“I gotta say: Orlando is awesome! It’s not as nice as Cancun, but it’s nice,” he said, making light of the scandal. He then went on to rail against the media, coronavirus restrictions and “cancel culture” before declaring: “Donald J Trump ain’t going anywhere”.

The sentiment was echoed by Mr Trump’s eldest son and his former Fox News presenter partner Kimberly Guilfoyle during their appearance at the event.

Mr Trump will headline the conference’s closing on Sunday, following speeches from others including his former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is now running for Arkansas governor.

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