NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — Less than two years after his historic victory over Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Donald Trump has finally completed his hostile takeover of the conservative movement begun almost a decade ago, long before he officially launched his 2016 presidential campaign in mid-2015.
Providing a flavor of the campaign Trump of 2016, Trump offered a flare of traditional conservative movement red meat swirled together with his own brand of celebrity in a winding hour-plus speech wherein he frequently veered off prepared remarks. The president issued a battle cry to the key conservative activists and movement power players in the country, a sign to key conservatives that he is girding for war with Democrats ahead of November’s all-important ballot test.
“We’ve all come a long way together. We’ve come a long way together. I’m thrilled to be back at CPAC, with so many of my wonderful friends and amazing supporters, and proud conservatives,” Trump, now President of the United States, said in his speech on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) hosted by the American Conservative Union (ACU). Trump went on:
Remember when I first started running? Because I wasn’t a politician, fortunately. But do you remember I started running and people would say, ‘Are you sure he’s a conservative?’ I think now we’ve proved that I’m a conservative, right? For more than four decades, this event has served as a forum for our nation’s top leaders, activists, writers, thinkers. Year after year, leaders have stood in this stage to discuss what we can do together to protect our heritage, to promote our culture, and to defend our freedom. CPAC has always been about big ideas and it’s also been about putting those ideas into action. And CPAC really has put a lot of ideas into action. We’ll talk about some of them this morning.
The crowd that greeted Trump here was the biggest ever in CPAC history, per the head of the ACU.
“This is the largest crowd we have ever had at a CPAC. I know we’re trying to build a wall, but we busted through a wall to open up the room—if you look behind you all the way back to the back of the hotel,” ACU chairman Matt Schlapp said when introducing the president to loud applause, adding: “This is CPAC history, folks.”
This appearance was hardly Trump’s first here. The first time the now President of the United States spoke at CPAC was in 2011, and he spoke every year until 2016 during the campaign, when efforts to get him to CPAC blew up amid negotiations as Republicans in many states were voting for him for the nomination. Trump would go on to win the nomination, and then the presidency, shocking the world—including many CPAC regulars. Trump came back to CPAC last year as a newly inaugurated president to begin to suture wounds in the conservative movement opened during the 2016 primary, and he returned again this year to declare victory.
“For the last year, with your help, we have put more great conservative ideas into use than perhaps ever before in American history,” Trump said, before delivering more than an hour of greatest hits from his presidency’s first year—mixed with some exciting energetic flashbacks to top campaign rhetoric highlights. The President said:
We’ve confirmed a record number — so important — of circuit court judges, and we are going to be putting in a lot more. And they will interpret the law as written. And we’ve confirmed an incredible new Supreme Court justice, a great man, Neil Gorsuch. Right? We’ve passed massive — biggest in history — tax cuts and reforms. You know, I don’t use the word ‘reform.’ There was a lot of reform, too. Very positive reform. I don’t use it. And when we were first doing it, I told everybody — everybody gathered — I said, ‘Just talk about tax cuts. People don’t know what reform means. They think reform might mean it’s going up.’ And I said, ‘Do tax cuts.’
After a sole leftist protester interrupted Trump’s speech—there was only one protester—the president issued a call to arms for the GOP base to fight the left during the upcoming midterm elections, one of many he’d issue over the course of the hour. At one point, Trump even pulled out of his suit pocket a copy of the “snake” poem he infamously read on the campaign trail—and read it again live for the audience here.
“I was backstage, it was one of his best speeches,” House Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) told Breitbart News right afterwards in the hallway outside the ballroom. “It wasn’t the TelePrompter. And it was really from his heart. It was reconnecting, it reminded me of his days on the campaign trail, it was reconnecting with the audience. It was vintage Donald Trump. Now, I have to say, it was vintage President Donald Trump.”
Meadows added that Trump has “hit his stride.”
“He is not only putting forward conservative policy, but he’s also making sure that the policy going forward is conservative,” Meadows said. “It’s interesting when you look, when a lot of people were saying he wasn’t really a conservative—well, his policy sure is.”
David Bossie, the president of Citizens United and the deputy campaign manager for Trump’s winning 2016 campaign, concurred.
“I think the president is speaking to a very warm crowd here at CPAC. These are the people that helped make him president,” Bossie told Breitbart News. “The conservative movement—which now we throw around terms like ‘nationalist’ and ‘populist,’ we now use different terms, but it’s always been the Reagan conservative movement, the Reagan conservative mantle. President Trump, if you look at his campaign and you look at his first 13 months in office, his conservative credentials are spectacular, from Neil Gorsuch to the tax cut to our foreign policy back to peace through strength. It’s been a tremendous success for conservatives and I’m glad that he came here to remind people about his conservatism.”
Nationally syndicated radio host and Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham made a similar point in her speech, in which she compared Trump to Ronald Reagan. Ingraham said:
What Ronald Reagan did is he understood that America was founded by these incredible men that the left is all about they’re all racist now and we got to re-question the American founding, but what they did—the American founders—is they questioned the British. They questioned authority. This is part of Reagan’s intellectualism that the left never really understood. He combined Thomas Paine, Jefferson, Locke, and later Alexander Solzhenitsyn—all were threats, all of those figures were threats to the established order. Reagan discussed the philosophical basis for tax cuts. He trumpeted the rights of the individual. He rejected this widely accepted notion that we needed perpetual detente with the U.S.S.R., that that was the only way of doing business. He embraced things like the Strategic Defense Initiative. He was a rebel. He was questioning the established authority of the day. Three decades later, in his own way, Donald Trump is following in that modern American conservative tradition of questioning authority. It used to be the left, right? He’s questioning the authority of the administrative state. He’s questioning the authority of the FBI…. He’s questioning the authority of the Deep State, of Washington, D.C., bureaucracies, sometimes of the courts. So, Donald Trump is a threat to the established order, the established order that has failed the people, that has kept corrupt institutions going year after year after year, that have been held captive by the mainstream media who have frankly sunk to new lows especially over the last week or so.
Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a former senior national security official in President Trump’s White House who also served as a Breitbart News national security editor, told Breitbart News that Trump demonstrated on Friday that he is the movement’s man.
“The President never gives up on us,” Gorka, who is speaking on Saturday from the main stage, said. “Americans who love America know he loves our nation too. Today he proved to the base that he’s still the man he was on November 8th, 2016. Especially with his commitment to never let the Left take our Second Amendment rights from us and that the wall will be built. Donald Trump bust through the permafrost of political correctness that blanketed our nation like a massive icebreaker ship. In 2018, we must gather the fleet behind him that will keep the sea lanes of freedom open. The midterm campaign started today and the Democrats are in trouble.”
Gorka is quite right: The President laced into congressional Democrats in an effort to get the base voters and activists here ready for the November midterm elections. In perhaps his most overtly political attacks since the 2016 campaign, Trump said that the lack of Democratic support for the growingly popular GOP tax cuts legislation he signed late last year is “going to cost them in the midterms.”
Trump said, almost having a conversation with the room about what to do next:
I know that whoever wins the presidency has a disadvantage, for whatever reason, in the midterms. You know what happens? I’m trying to figure it out. Because historically, if you win the presidency, you don’t do well two years later. And you know what? We can’t let that happen. And I know what happens. I finally figured it out. Nobody has been able to explain it. It just happens, statistically, almost all of the time for many years. What happens is, you fight so hard to win the presidency. You fight, fight, fight. And now only two years — that’s a very short period. And by the time you start campaigning, it’s a year. And now you got to go and fight again. But you just won. So nobody has that same drive that they had. So you end up not doing that well because the other side is going — they’re crazed. And, by the way, they’re crazed anyway, these people. They are really crazed. Right?”
Trump implored conservatives to fight like they mean it in the midterms to stop the Democrats and break the blue wave forming off the coast. He said:
So you got to keep up the enthusiasm. Now what happens, by the way, they lose. And then you have the presidential election coming up again, and you clobber them because everybody gets off their ass and they get out and they work. Right? And they work. And they work and work and work. And you end up winning the Presidency again. And we should do that — hopefully we’re going to do that very easily. But never — we have to worry — right now, we have a big race coming up in ’18. You have to get out. You have to just get that enthusiasm. Keep it going. See, the word, really, is ‘complacent.’ People get complacent. It’s a natural instinct. You just won, and now you’re happy and you’re complacent. Don’t be complacent. Okay? Don’t be complacent. Because if they get in, they will repeal your tax cuts, they will put judges in that you wouldn’t believe, they’ll take away your Second Amendment, which we will never allow to happen. They’ll take away your Second Amendment.
Trump’s important CPAC speech—perhaps the best he has given as President, save maybe his first State of the Union or his address to a joint session of Congress in his first few months—served not just as a reminder of why 2016 was so important but as a wake-up call to Republicans moving forward.
“It’s vital,” Bossie said of movement and party unity walking into the midterm elections. “The left is highly motivated to try to destroy this presidency through investigation and this now-bogus Russia investigation. They will stop at nothing—they will stop at nothing—to try to destroy him and this presidency. Part of that plan is to defeat Republicans in November. That is a big problem for the conservative movement.”
Meadows agrees. “It’s critical,” the Freedom Caucus chairman, who received a shout-out along with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) from the President during his speech, told Breitbart News. “We’ve got to be unified moving forward into November but not just until November—in 2020 and beyond. And I think the more you do what you said you were going to do, the more unified you’ll be. For all those who are reading what you have to say, I want them to hear this: Stay engaged, help is on the way.”