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Trump vows in speech to 'finish what we started'

Former president Donald Trump has cast himself as the only Republican candidate who can build on his White House legacy but shied away from directly criticising his potential rivals, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Trump, giving the headlining address at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, told a cheering crowd he was engaged in his "final battle" as he tries to return to the White House.

"We are going to finish what we started," he said on Saturday.

"We're going to complete the mission.

"We're going to see this battle through to ultimate victory."

Though DeSantis, seen as Trump's biggest potential rival, is frequently a subject of name-calling and other attacks in Trump's social media posts and in interviews, he was not mentioned directly in Trump's address before conservative activists, who earlier in the day applauded when an old video clip of the Florida governor was shown in a montage.

While CPAC was once a must-stop for candidates mulling Republican presidential runs, DeSantis and other major likely contenders skipped this year's gathering amid scandal and as the group has increasingly become aligned with Trump.

The former president's enduring popularity with this segment of voters was on display throughout the conference this week.

Some attendees wore Trump-themed outfits, with Make America Great Again hats and sequined jackets.

Members of his family and his presidential administration were swarmed like celebrities in the hallways and dominated the list of speakers.

And the annual CPAC straw poll, an unscientific survey of attendees, found Trump the top choice of party nominee, with 62 per cent support, trailed by DeSantis at 20 per cent and businessman Perry Johnson, who announced his long shot bid at the conference, with five per cent.

Nearly all, 95 per cent of respondents, said they approved of Trump's performance as president.

Before his speech, Trump told reporters that he would continue his third presidential campaign even if indicted.

Prosecutors are investigating his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia and by the US Justice Department, as well as his handling of classified documents, among other issues.

He condemned all the probes as politically motivated and vowed that criminal charges would not deter him.

While Trump did not launch broadsides against his potential challengers, he repeatedly criticised the old guard of the Republican Party, which is eager to move past him.

"We had a Republican Party that was ruled by freaks, neo-cons, globalists, open borders zealots and fools," he said.

"But we are never going back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and Jeb Bush."

Trump threaded his speech with grievances related to his term in office and outlined his agenda for a second, including restrictions on gender-affirming care and transgender athletes.

While many top Republicans steered clear of the conference, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, a potential candidate, and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who declared her candidacy last month, spoke on Friday and made shrouded critiques of Trump.