The en­emy of their en­emy …

One prin­ci­ple that unites the Trump-era Repub­li­can party: hat­ing its foes

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - ALEXAN­DER PANETTA

Don­ald Trump has just fin­ished a speech at the coun­try’s big­gest an­nual gath­er­ing of con­ser­va­tives, and out­side in the hall­way a group of young men are de­bat­ing where they agree and dis­agree with the pres­i­dent.

There’s dis­agree­ment about his use of ex­ec­u­tive or­ders; his trade poli­cies; his han­dling of the travel ban; his habit of us­ing the pres­i­den­tial bully pul­pit to pres­sure pri­vate busi­nesses; his views on for­eign mil­i­tary ad­ven­tur­ism; and as­pects of his style. But there’s unity around the en­emy. The left, the cul­tural elites, and oh, yes, the main­stream me­dia — one young lib­er­tar­ian man notes that, even if he dis­likes as­pects of Trump­ism, it’s fun to watch him in­fu­ri­ate these peo­ple: “The trig­ger­ing is hi­lar­i­ous. We love that.”

Trump didn’t dis­ap­point Fri­day. He clob­bered the press about a dozen times in a speech to the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence. Later in the day, his staff blocked CNN and The New York Times from at­tend­ing a brief­ing.

One con­ven­tion reg­u­lar used to be so turned off by Trump he was plan­ning to lead a walk­out at last year’s con­fer­ence — prompt­ing Trump to can­cel him­self. Last year, Wil­liam Tem­ple dis­liked the way Trump in­sulted Carly Fio­r­ina and Ted Cruz.

This year, he doesn’t flinch when asked how he feels about the pres­i­dent’s first month in of­fice: “Oh, de­lighted. De­spite how the press would like to say it’s messed up and they don’t know what they’re do­ing.”

The re­tired Tea Party devo­tee at­tends the an­nual event in 18th cen­tury rev­o­lu­tion­ary­era cloth­ing. He’s asked to com­pare Trump to the most re­cent first-year pres­i­dent who ad­dressed the con­fer­ence — Ron­ald Rea­gan, who in 1981 de­liv­ered a speech burst­ing with free-mar­ket op­ti­mism.

“They’re not the same. We need a man who’s gonna slap the me­dia around.”

He also wants to slap around the so-called RINOs — Repub­li­cans In Name Only. Af­ter win­ning the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives back in 2010, the Se­nate in 2014, and the White House in 2016, Tem­ple said: “We’ve got it all. So now the only thing we’ve gotta do is kick the RINOs in the butt.”

Trump’s speech to the con­fer­ence was sprin­kled with ref­er­ences to ideals of the move­ment he now leads, like gun rights. It re­ferred to trade deals, and got mod­est ap­plause. It steered clear of hot-but­ton so­cial is­sues, like abor­tion.

But it in­cluded eight ref­er­ences to the “me­dia,” eight more to “news,” six to the press, and three more to re­ports and re­porters.

It be­gan with a joke. Trump took the stage and asked peo­ple to sit down lest “the dis­hon­est me­dia ... say, ‘He didn’t get a stand­ing ova­tion.’” He quickly got se­ri­ous — telling jour­nal­ists to stop us­ing anony­mous sources.

He took it a step fur­ther: “They are the en­emy of the peo­ple.” But he soft­ened it with a qual­i­fier: “I’m not against the press ... I am only against the fake news, me­dia or press. Fake, fake.”

Later in the day, his staff blocked from a brief­ing news out­lets that re­ported on an FBI probe into con­tacts be­tween the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sia — which the White House dis­putes. It sought to de­bunk those stories in a brief­ing Fri­day, with of­fi­cials re­quest­ing anonymity — on the same day their boss urged the press to stop us­ing anony­mous sources.

Not all Repub­li­cans like the hard-edged tac­tics. One young con­ser­va­tive at­tend­ing the con­fer­ence wears a retro but­ton fea­tur­ing Rea­gan, the pres­i­dent who made CPAC a mar­quee po­lit­i­cal event. Rea­gan’s 1981 speech was cheer­ful; it quoted con­ser­va­tive thinkers; toasted freedom at home and abroad; and made a point of not in­sult­ing po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

In fact, to make the point that it was bet­ter to learn from oth­ers’ mis­takes, than to crit­i­cize them, Rea­gan quoted the poet T.S. Eliot: “Only by ac­cep­tance of the past will you al­ter its mean­ing.”

Young Zachary Zu­pan, 20, is long­ing for the next Rea­gan.

He voted for a third-party con­ser­va­tive be­cause he was wor­ried about Trump. What he feared was that Trump’s style would be­come as­so­ci­ated with the right wing; he’d govern like a lefty; and the en­tire con­ser­va­tive move­ment would be un­fairly tarred.

He’s re­lieved by Trump’s early moves, like nam­ing Neil Gor­such to the Supreme Court. He was also fine with the travel ban, in gen­eral, but said it was badly im­ple­mented. Now he’s hop­ing for the best.

But there’s some­thing else Zu­pan wants: to see his move­ment ar­tic­u­late a more uni­fy­ing mes­sage, with a pos­i­tive vi­sion, in ad­di­tion to at­tack­ing oth­ers.

“I think the con­ser­va­tive move­ment right now is largely un­de­fined. We haven’t de­cided what it is that uni­fies us,” he said.

“And that’s why it’s sort of de­fined by op­po­si­tion to the left. And that’s not suf­fi­cient for any con­struc­tive po­lit­i­cal move­ment. Even though there is a lot in the left that needs to be re­sisted. So I’m curious to see where it’s go­ing to go un­der Trump.”


U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Fri­day ad­dresses the crowd dur­ing the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence at the Gay­lord Na­tional Re­sort in Oxon Hill, Mary­land. Trump took the stage and asked peo­ple to sit down lest “the dis­hon­est me­dia ... say, ‘He didn’t get a stand­ing ova­tion.’” He quickly got se­ri­ous — telling jour­nal­ists to stop us­ing anony­mous sources.

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