President Donald Trump has had an interesting relationship with the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the American Conservative Union’s annual event starting with his first appearance in 2011 when he was still a real estate magnate, reality television star, and private citizen. Trump was also scheduled to appear at CPAC in 2016 when the Republican presidential primary was in full swing, but he famously cancelled his appearance mid-conference in response to the massive “never Trump” groundswell taking place at not only the Gaylord conference center, but also within the conservative media and the Republican National Committee itself. Many pundits questioned the wisdom of his decision to skip CPAC.
At the end of the day, it didn’t matter. The Trump Train just gathered more steam to fuel its ride to Trump’s historic election as the 45th president of the United States. And the fragrance of that sweet victory was ever present when he took the stage at CPAC 2017: The once political outsider was now leader of the free world.
However, at CPAC 2017 some attendees were still very hesitant about Trump. They questioned his conservatism, his ability to lead and so much more. While he delivered a strong speech which appeared to be well received by the majority of the crowd, there was still a slight aroma of skepticism.
Oh, what a difference a year makes! I have now witnessed President Trump’s speech at CPAC 2018 three times, at the conference, in a television replay and via transcript. All I can say is that his presentation to the largest annual U.S. gathering of conservatives was nothing less than brilliant. The man who was once viewed as an upstart candidate has now assumed his rightful position as the leader of the Republican Party.
Here are my key take aways:
Zero Tolerance for Complacency
The speech was a clarion call against complacency which was peppered with directives to support our 2018 Republican candidates. He repeatedly brought up the point that we cannot rest on our laurels. We need to support our candidates now or else the Democrats will sneak up on us.
In God We Trust
Trump drove home the message that we are a nation founded on God’s principles. “Above all else, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are at the center of American life. We know that. Because in America, we don’t worship government, we worship God,“ Trump told the crowd.
He then delivered a beautiful tribute to legendary preacher Billy Graham who died this past week at age 99. Trump then gracefully pivoted from Graham’s death to the horrific shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School by saying, “In times of grief and hardship, we turn to prayer for solace and for comfort… In recent days, our entire nation has been filled with terrible pain and sorrow over the evil massacre in a great community — Parkland, Fla. This senseless act of mass murder has shocked our nation and broken our hearts.”
He then used the platform to discuss practical solutions for addressing gun violence in our schools and in our communities. His primary suggestion was to recruit “well-trained, gun-adept teachers and coaches” including retired military retired personnel. to work in the schools. And he reiterated the message that he has made many times that gun free zones just put our communities more at risk because the criminals are not going to turn over their guns. He emphasized the importance of strengthening background checks, but also stated that those who support the Second Amendment, an indirect reference to the National Rifle Association, are also some of the biggest proponents of stronger background checks.
Build That Wall!
Trump’s references to the wall always generate a lot of applause. However, interestingly enough, the loudest applause in the entire close to an hour-and-a-half-speech came when President Trump spoke about the importance of merit based immigration. “I don’t want people coming into this country with a lottery. I want people coming into this country based on merit.” He delivered his now famous rendition of “the snake” to further drive home the message. Of course, the liberal media twisted his use of the parable to intimate that Trump wants to kill immigrants. Once again, fake news in the making.
A Bald Move!
Trump has always done a great job with communicating his administration’s accomplishments in a manner which is engaging and entertaining. And CPAC was no exception. However, this time, near the onset of the speech, he surprised the crowd by making a reference to his bald spot. “Oh, boy. That’s a — I try like hell to hide that bald spot, folks. I work hard at it. It doesn’t look bad. Hey, we’re hanging in. We’re hanging in. We’re hanging in there, right? Together, we’re hanging in.”
This self-deprecating comment was a bit of departure for Trump. It showed his vulnerability and his ability to make fun him of himself. While we want a leader who is confident enough to stare down North Korea, it is refreshing to know that he thinks of himself as one of us. Trump concluded his presentation by thanking his audience for being “incredible partners” and promising to “never, ever, let” us “down”.
Does anyone recall any other siting president referring to his constituents as his “partners”? It’s a new day in American politics. The GOP and the country now has a leader who has thrown establishment politics and elitism out of the window. Trump speaks a common language that we all understand, but also communicates to us like we are sitting at the table with him.