President Donald Trump on Friday delivered one of his trademark rally speeches at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, and seemed to bury last year’s sporadic “oh-he’s-not-really-a-conservative” talk.
Last year he skipped the conference during the GOP primaries, prompting this tweet from CPAC: “Very disappointed . . . his choice sends a clear message to conservatives.”
This year, he returned to big cheers and chants on what now looks like his home ideological turf.
As expected, Trump made himself the center of the message and blasted the news media — which ran the whole speech live — sneered at political consultants and attacked Democrats on Obamacare.
He drew varying doses of love from the room by renewing pledges about the border wall, defeating ISIS, increasing jobs, rebuilding infrastructure and trashing trade deals.
Some statements were vulnerable, as usual, to factual challenge — from his description of a “very depleted” military to the Democrats’ primaries being fixed against Bernie Sanders and that the U.S. has spent $6 trillion in the Mideast.
Pushing the required buttons, Trump also hailed the Second Amendment, economic nationalism, the military and the conservative movement as a whole.
The bottom line was that despite the hungry, aggressive tones of a campaign speech, he won the day as expected just by showing up at the convention hall in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
CPAC was founded in 1973 by the Conservative Union and Young Americans for Freedom. Other Republican presidents have spoken there, of course. In 2010, conference sponsors included the John Birch Society and GOProud, with the tea party movement given the Ronald Reagan award.
Trump and the conservative movement and the GOP are — at this moment — palpably united, though the tests of his incumbency await.
On Thursday, Trump aide Kellyanne Conway quipped that the following day, CPAC would be TPAC.
“You know, every great movement and which the conservative movement is, of course, every great movement ends up being a little bit sclerotic and dusty after a time,” she said. “And I think they need new infusion of energy. And in the case of candidate Trump and president-elect and nominee Trump, he went right to the grass roots and brought you along.”
Just who brought whom where may be a question for later on. Friday’s event belonged to the executive branch, but congressional Republicans were in short supply, by several accounts.
One senator and nine House members were on the speaker list. Neither majority leader showed, nor did past GOP presidential candidates.
But there are always limits to solidarity.