Michael Flynn made clear at the beginning of his speech to the East Valley Republican Women Federated Association, a name he pronounced rather slowly, that he had not come to La Quinta, Calif., to discuss certain events from his past.
“I’m not here to complain about who has done me wrong or how unfair I’ve been treated or how unfair the entire process has been,” Flynn said to a small audience, which laughed at his remark, though Flynn did not.
Nor did he elaborate on what unfairness he was referring to — although probably everyone had an idea.
A little over a year earlier, Flynn, with a distinguished career in the military and government, was national security adviser to President Trump. Then he was abruptly forced out of the White House in a scandal. In December, he pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents, and now he is believed to be cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation into whether Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with the Russian government.
But his first public appearance since his guilty plea, Flynn told the crowd, was not about any of that. He had come to La Quinta to endorse Omar Navarro, a 29-year-old Republican making a long-shot bid to unseat 14-term Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) in the heavily Democratic 43rd Congressional District.
“I am here to talk about your future, our future, the future of this country,” Flynn said. And yet, for the next 15 minutes, he kept alluding vaguely to the past.
“If you feel passionate about something and feeling sorry for yourself will keep you from achieving that destiny, then I can’t be a part of that,” Flynn said, still just a few sentences into his speech.
Sorry about what, he did not specify. Maybe he meant Navarro, who sat near the front of the audience waiting to speak and whose last attempt to unseat Waters ended in a loss by more than 50 percentage points, according to the Associated Press.
Or maybe Flynn meant the possibility that he will go to prison once he’s sentenced under the terms of his plea deal. He didn’t say.
“My passion and my destiny changed when I saw our country taking a fundamentally different direction, and I decided to do something about it,” Flynn continued. “If I’m paying a price for that decision, then so be it. God can and will judge me at some point.”
Still not complaining, Flynn tried to pump up the crowd by recalling his time on the 2016 campaign trail with Donald Trump.
“All of us are imperfect,” he said. “Heck, I used to introduce … Trump during our various campaign stops as an imperfect candidate. I mean, clearly, he’s not a traditional politician. But his ‘Make America Great Again’ philosophy energized the country enough to get him overwhelmingly elected.”
“Whether we like it or not, that’s what happened,” Flynn added.
A banner hung above him. It read, “Make California Great Again.”
It’s unclear how Flynn and Trump feel about each other now. Flynn was accused of possible illegal contacts with the Russian ambassador and was pressured to resign as national security adviser after barely a month on the job. He is now believed to be cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose investigation is moving closer to Trump’s inner circle.
“What human is perfect?” Flynn asked the crowd. “What human has no faults? The greatest of each of us is our innate ability to get knocked down, get right back up, shake it off and get right back into the fight.”
He then stopped talking about the 2016 campaign and recounted his long career in the U.S. military and in combat. But he quickly became philosophical again.
“Do not take your loved ones for granted,” he said. “Not a single day, ever. And that’s why I decided to come here this afternoon, as I think about all the things that have transpired and, again, sort of, ‘Why am I here?’ And I’ll share a little bit about that in a second. But it’s really to talk about your future, our future, our future as a country.”
With that, Flynn finally got to politics. He was known for fierce, vaguely militaristic speeches in 2016, when he brought crowds of thousands to their feet. His speech in La Quinta was not like those.
“Do you know what the so-called Democratic Party, or the left, or the progressive movement, or liberal establishment has done to our country?” Flynn asked his audience.
“I mean these are all cool-sounding words, especially to young people,” he answered himself. “It’s a dangerous thing when we put these labels on things to make it sound like it’s something that’s really cool, but it really isn’t.”
Cool or not, Flynn blamed liberals for California’s high rates of crime, homelessness and unemployment. He also accused them of blaming others for their problems. “I don’t know how somebody can get up every day and feel that way,” he said. “God, it’s like, quit whining.”
Finally, he got around to Navarro.
“This is a kid … ” Flynn said, and then corrected himself to say “young man,” and then corrected himself again to say “a professional who lives in the district.”
“I looked him up on YouTube,” Flynn said, adding that Navarro had once brought a mariachi band to play in front of Waters’s house. “If you haven’t seen that YouTube video, you’ve got to go. It’s great,” Flynn said.
Flynn told the audience that Navarro was a Christian, supported gun rights, believed in small government and “shares legal Hispanic immigrants’ values.” (Navarro says he was born in California.) When Navarro ran against Waters in 2016, Flynn said, he raised only $3,000 but still got more votes in the district than Trump did. This year, he has raised more than $150,000.
“He scares the death out of the Democratic Party,” Flynn said and listed others who have endorsed Navarro, including Trump friend Roger Stone and the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
“These are serious people looking at this young man and saying, ‘He’s got a shot,’ ” Flynn said of the candidate.
As he concluded his speech, Flynn said one more thing that was not a complaint.
“People in public service, you guys know this is not going to be easy. You’re going to have bad days, tough days, you know, the media,” he said. “So put a resilience inside you now that’s going to get you through this. Because that’s what it takes to win.”
Then the man who had once been among the most powerful people in the world introduced Omar Navarro to the East Valley Republican Women Federated gathering, and got on with the future.