In an early morning press conference at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), Donald Trump held forth on the federal budget, the state of the economy, his decision not to run in 2012, and the nation's future.
Trump also laid into familiar media sparring partners such as Chris Matthews, Bill Maher, and Joy Behar ("I think the View's probably going to do better without her.")
In the run-up to CPAC, Trump's appearance provoked media controversy, with critics alleging that it was a sign the conservative movement had lost its way. Trump's conservative fans, however, have long appreciated his willingness to confront media criticism--unlike many Republican leaders.
Asked about his efforts to push President Barack Obama to release his "long form" birth certificate, Trump attacked the media for spinning the issue, but added that he had moved on: "I'm really about, now, the economy, jobs."
On that topic, Trump aimed sharp criticism at President Obama's lack of leadership. "I think the President ought to be doing the budget, but he doesn't want to do a budget because it's not good politics."
He reiterated his offer to fund White House tours for a full year rather than seeing them cut as a consequence of the budget sequester that began at the beginning of the month.
"It's not a great economy. It's not the country it was," Trump added, nothing that several developing nations, including Mexico, were making faster progress than the U.S. in recovering from economic challenges.
But Trump commended President Obama for traveling to Israel next week: "I think it's great that he's going." Trump also backed the principle of background checks for firearm purchases, while reiterating that he believes strongly in the Second Amendment.
On the political future, Trump predicted a 2016 race "that could be a lot tougher" than the 2012 contest, and suggested that Republicans needed "to be very careful" lest voters start to consider third-party options.
"They need great leadership. They need somebody to energize. And right now, they haven't got it."
Trump also encouraged Republicans to "play the debt ceiling card" to force the president to compromise. "The Republicans have so much power, and they don't seem to realize it. And every day that goes by, it dissipates."
Trump, while supporting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, was bullish on Ashley Judd's chances to win the Democratic nomination in Kentucky, blaming Karl Rove for boosting her chances with ads against her, recalling Rove's lack of success in the 2012 cycle. "I think he's the most overrated man in politics today."