NEW YORK — The chairman of an Austrian political party founded by ex-Nazis, the conservative Twitter star behind the anti-trans Bud Light backlash and former President Donald Trump all walked into a bar.
On Saturday night in Manhattan, amid butler-delivered bellinis, sequined ball gowns and a five-course French service meal, characters from all corners of the Republican Party’s MAGA faction gathered for “a night of dinner, drinking, and love of country.”
Donald Trump, the club’s 111th Annual Gala Keynote speaker, delivered.
“We want to liberate America because we’re in a country that’s in a lot of pain right now, a lot of hurt,” Trump told the crowd, during his 80-minute long speech. “This campaign is on a righteous crusade to rescue our nation from a very corrupt political class.”
On the heels of a reaffirmed gag order, a debate of largely deferential Republican opponents and near slam-dunk poll numbers for the Iowa caucuses just weeks away, Trump made his pledge for a return to the White House.
The former president also addressed his comments earlier this week where he said he would not be a dictator “except for day one” if he returns to office in 2025.
“[Peter] Baker today in the New York Times said that I want to be a dictator,” Trump said, referencing an article from the newspaper’s chief White House correspondent.
“I didn’t say that. I said I want to be a dictator for one day. You know why I wanted to be a dictator? Because I want a wall, and I want to drill, drill, drill,” Trump said, adding that Democrats’ “newest hoax” is to label him a threat to democracy.
The former president was preaching to his base Saturday, as a mix of firebrand conservative media icons, siloed far-right lawmakers and wealthy MAGA-loving donors chanted his name and cheered pro-Trump speeches from carefully-plated banquet tables.
His fellow headlining speakers, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), echoed Trump’s sentiments that the slate of indictments against him are politically motivated.
“They are trying to defeat President Trump in the witness box and the jury box because they know they will never be able to ultimately defeat him in the ballot box,” said Gaetz, after his wife, Ginger, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” earlier in the evening.
The annual galas of the New York Young Republicans Club’s are no stranger to spectacle.
While the soirees have happened for over a century, the guest list increasingly has shifted to align with Trump.
The night’s more than 35 honored guests included the former president’s adviser Steve Bannon, Trump defense lawyer Alina Habba, former New York Mayor Rudy Guliani and members of Congress Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Mike Collins (R-Ga.) and Cory Mills (R-Fla.). Right wing Twitter star Rogan O’Handley, who helped popularize the anti-trans boycott of Bud Light, and Harald Vilimsky, the secretary-general of Austria’s Euroskeptic Freedom Party, a party founded by former Nazis, were also honored guests.
This year’s Master of Ceremonies was Alex Stein, a man perhaps best known for catcalling Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Capitol steps. Tickets to the event, open to the public, ranged from $699 to $30,000.
Saturday was the first time Trump himself was present for one of the club’s galas, according to the club’s 29-year-old president, Gavin Wax, who has drawn ire and protests at past events.
In December 2020, Wax held the club’s gala without Covid precautions. Last year, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was the keynote speaker, with Donald Trump Jr. and PizzaGate conspiracy promoter Jack Posobiec as the two other featured speakers. Posobiec was also an honored guest at Saturday’s gala.
As the night’s final speaker, Trump pledged to repeal President Joe Biden’s recent executive order on artificial intelligence, mused about switching back Biden’s nickname from “Crooked Joe” to “Sleepy Joe,” and called for stricter voter ID laws.
“We are going to bring our country back from hell, and it’s in hell right now,” Trump said from the opulent Cipriani restaurant on Wall Street, where Hillary Clinton had made her now-infamous “basket of deplorables” remark seven years ago.
“On day one, I will break up the Biden administration’s illegal censorship machine and any official who has violated Americans constitutional rights will be held very, very accountable,” Trump said.
Trump also promised a renewed focus on border security in his 2024 campaign — only after lamenting he couldn’t do so in 2020 because of the progress he made on the issue as president.
“We had a great border, I couldn’t even talk about it,” Trump said.
Prior to Trump’s arrival on stage, Wax celebrated Trump’s would-be return to the presidency as an opportunity for his political foes to be punished.
“Since I know the deep state is listening tonight, once President Trump is back in office, we won’t be playing nice anymore,” Wax said.
“It will be a time for retribution. All those responsible for destroying our once-great country will be held to account after baseless years of investigations and government lies and media lies against this man,” he said. “Now it is time to turn the tables on these actual crooks and lock them up for a change.”
Trump then lauded Wax’s remarks.
“Gavin, that was an excellent speech,” he said. “That was an excellent speech, wow.”
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