President Donald Trump electrified a boisterous crowd of thousands at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday, recounting his legislative victories in 2017 and warning the activists that they must not be complacent during the 2018 midterm congressional elections.
Trump gave a stemwinder of a speech lasting about 60 minutes, reminiscent of the hour-long speeches he routinely delivered at campaign rallies during the 2016 presidential election.
It’s little wonder why. The president reveled in the cheers he got at CPAC’s 2018 annual convention, held every year in Washington, D.C., since 1974, and this year held at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
“I think we’ve proved now that I’m conservative,” Trump said, noting earlier CPAC appearances when many Republicans viewed him with suspicion. The crowd cheered as Trump said he delivered on tax cuts, tax reform and judicial appointments such as Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
The Potomac Ballroom was packed with thousands of people, warmed up by LifeZette co-founder Laura Ingraham. CPAC organizers even let people stand behind the media area to accommodate the overflow. They were ready to hear Trump crow about success while also promising more.
Trump said the economy has created 2.7 million jobs since he took office, and that he has tried to instill more conservative ideas into his policies than any other president.
But early in his speech, Trump got a taste of what has followed him for more than a year. A heckler rose to shout, and was promptly escorted out. Conservatives chanted “USA” as police took the protester out.
Trump then mocked the one-man protest, saying the media would exaggerate the number.
The midterm elections. But Trump was concerned about a larger opponent — congressional Democrats. Trump said he would use the Democratic votes against his tax reform in this year’s November midterm elections.
“We didn’t have one Democratic vote,” said Trump. “That will cost them in the midterms.
Trump warned conservative activists in the crowd that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is eager to reclaim control of the gavel as Speaker of the House. Trump warned that if Congress falls to the Democrats in November, new regulations and infringements on individual rights will follow.
“We have to fight Nancy Pelosi,” said Trump. “They will do things you can’t believe, including taking away your Second Amendment rights.”
Trump said he wants to see conservatives fight the historical trend in midterm elections, when the party in the White House loses seats in Congress.
“The great enthusiasm [in the 2016 election],” said Trump. “Then we get clobbered … We can’t let that happen.”
Trump said there was a lot to protect in Congress, such as tax reform and judicial nominations. To help motivate the conservative crowd, Trump reminded them that he beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, which provoked chants of “lock her up.”
The long speech saw Trump often defend his “America First” policies, and he boasted that he stood up to international leaders. He reminded the CPAC activists he revoked U.S. participation in the Paris environmental agreement that would have suppressed American energy production.
“We knocked out the Paris climate accord,” Trump said. “We have massive energy reserves. We have coal. Basically, they were saying, ‘Don’t use it.’ I told them, ‘It’s not gonna happen.'”
Trump denounced the attack at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on February 16. Seventeen people were killed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
Trump derided the armed school resource officer, a Broward County deputy sheriff, who did not enter the school after the shooting began. Trump stressed the nation needs to address the mentally ill who want to hurt others, and that schools need more security and teachers who carry concealed guns.
“We want to assure that when there are warning signs, we act and we act very quickly,” said Trump. “It’s time to make our schools a much harder target for attackers … When we declare our schools to be gun-free zones, it puts our students in much more danger.”
Trump said many school employees were trained with guns in the military. And if teachers had guns, Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old gunman in Florida, would have seen a different fate.
“The teacher would have shot the hell out of him,” said Trump. “I am telling you, that would work.”
The wall. Trump said he would continue to fight illegal immigration and sanctuary cities that protect illegal aliens. He derided congressional Democrats for not negotiating in faith on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a repealed executive order first issued by President Barack Obama in 2012 that protected illegals brought to the United States as children.
Trump said the Democrats seem ready to compromise on funding a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But they won’t give Trump more, such as ending chain migration or the “diversity lottery,” where immigrants can be chosen based on race, ethnicity and nationality.
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Trump said the first priority for potential immigrants has to be a love for American democratic values, and a desire to work.
“I don’t want people coming into this country on a lottery,” said Trump. “I want people coming into this country based on merit … I want great people … who contribute.”
The crowd roared to Trump’s appeal on immigration, and stood up.
The hair. Trump was comfortable with the CPAC crowd. He came out to enthused cheers, and even delighted the crowd by talking about what might be a personal taboo.
Trump looked at two large TV screens on each side of the stage.
“Look at that picture,” Trump said. “Boy, wouldn’t I want to see that man speak?”
He then pretended to fix his hair, and made a surprising comment.
“I try like hell to hide that bald spot, folks. Doesn’t look bad,” Trump said.
And as the speech ended, almost as an afterthought, Trump said he just imposed large sanctions on North Korea.