CPAC speeches show GOP’s shift

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Dan Balz dan.balz@wash­post.com

Ron­ald Rea­gan’s 1974 ad­dress dif­fered sharply from Trump’s on Fri­day.

“We can­not es­cape our des­tiny, nor should we try to do so,” Ron­ald Rea­gan told one of the first CPAC gath­er­ings in Jan­uary 1974. “The lead­er­ship of the free world was thrust upon us two cen­turies ago in that lit­tle hall of Philadel­phia.” Quot­ing Pope Pius XII af­ter World War II, Rea­gan said, “Into the hands of Amer­ica, God has placed the des­tinies of an af­flicted mankind.”

Con­trast that with what Pres­i­dent Trump said Fri­day when he ad­dressed the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence. Trump’s speech, cou­pled with the ap­pear­ance a day ear­lier by White House chief strate­gist Stephen K. Ban­non, pro­vided the most de­fin­i­tive ar­tic­u­la­tion of the “Amer­ica First” phi­los­o­phy that car­ried Trump to vic­tory in Novem­ber and that is re­defin­ing con­ser­vatism and, with it, the Repub­li­can Party.

“We need to de­fine what this great, great un­prece­dented move­ment is and what it ac­tu­ally rep­re­sents,” Trump said. “The core con­vic­tion of our move­ment is that we are a na­tion that put and will put its own ci­ti­zens first. For too long, we’ve traded away our jobs to other coun­tries. So ter­ri­ble. We’ve de­fended other na­tions’ bor­ders while leav­ing ours wide open.”

Rea­gan’s speech in 1974, along with his fre­quent later ap­pear­ances at CPAC, was an evo­ca­tion of his vi­sion of Amer­ica as a shin­ing city on a hill and “the last best hope of man on Earth.” His vi­sion called for an out­ward-look­ing Amer­ica, a na­tion whose unique power and po­si­tion car­ried with it obli­ga­tions to the rest of the world. Those themes an­i­mated his con­ser­vatism through­out his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

Trump, the eco­nomic na­tion­al­ist, cast things dif­fer­ently. Among the most ar­rest­ing lines in his speech were these: “There is no such thing as a global an­them, a global cur­rency or a global flag,” he said. “This is the United States of Amer­ica that I’m rep­re­sent­ing. I’m not rep­re­sent­ing the globe. I’m rep­re­sent­ing your coun­try.”

Rea­gan might have agreed with the lit­eral words spo­ken by the 45th pres­i­dent. He was an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent who traced his phi­los­o­phy to the Found­ing Fa­thers and pa­tri­ots. He was not a be­liever in global gov­ern­ment or hand­ing pow­ers to in­ter­na­tional bod­ies such as the United Na­tions. Still, the con­trast be­tween Trump’s and Rea­gan’s vi­sions can­not be over­stated.

Rea­gan es­poused Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism and a na­tion seek­ing to de­fend free­dom around the world. Trump looks in­ward and ap­pears to be­grudge the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of lead­ing the world that pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents, Repub­li­can or Demo­crat, have em­braced.

It is com­monly as­serted that Trump and Trump­ism have buried Rea­gan and Rea­gan­ism, that the con­ser­vatism of the past few decades is rapidly be­ing re­placed by a mix­ture of poli­cies across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum, some of which are con­trary to what con­ser­va­tives have long es­poused.

That as­ser­tion of the takeover is mostly true. The speed with which the trans­for­ma­tion of the Repub­li­can Party is tak­ing place is breath­tak­ing, at least on the sur­face. Many con­ser­va­tive in­tel­lec­tu­als re­main hold­outs. But rank-and-file Repub­li­cans so far are en­thu­si­as­tic, and Trump’s hard­core sup­port­ers are ec­static.

Last year, Trump was a noshow at CPAC, a can­di­date who threat­ened the old con­ser­va­tive or­der. This year he ar­rived as a con­quer­ing hero.

Trump is still a work in progress. His speech at CPAC sounded much like the cam­paign speeches he gave last fall, re­plete with prom­ises yet to be ful­filled. His sup­port­ers give him credit for keep­ing those prom­ises, as the first weeks of his ad­min­is­tra­tion have been a pro­jec­tion of his in­ten­tion to do just that. The de­tails of his prom­ises re­main sketchy. Trump’s Tues­day night speech to a joint ses­sion of Congress could be­gin to fill in some of those blank spots.

Some of his agenda is con­ven­tional con­ser­vatism as it has been de­fined since and even be­fore Rea­gan. Do­mes­ti­cally, Trump is for lower taxes and less reg­u­la­tion to spur busi­ness ac­tiv­ity and eco­nomic growth. Ban­non used a phrase that per­haps sounded omi­nous to de­scribe the struggle to en­act this agenda. He called it the “de­con­struc­tion of the ad­min­is­tra­tive state.”

In less grandiose lan­guage, it rep­re­sents an ef­fort to pare back the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Repub­li­cans have long ad­vo­cated ex­actly that. Rea­gan tried and was par­tially suc­cess­ful in tam­ing the fed­eral be­he­moth — but not the deficit. Trump’s ad­vo­cacy of these poli­cies is one big rea­son so many tra­di­tional con­ser­va­tives, and par­tic­u­larly Repub­li­can elected of­fi­cials, are mak­ing their peace with a pres­i­dent whose can­di­dacy they op­posed and whose lan­guage and style re­pelled them through­out the 2016 elec­tion.

Trump and Rea­gan shared some­thing else: Each sought to re­de­fine the Repub­li­can Party as one that was open and wel­com­ing to work­ing-class Amer­i­cans, many of them long­time Demo­cratic vot­ers. Rea­gan bat­tled the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment on his way to the pres­i­dency, and he sought to create a new coali­tion of vot­ers for the party.

“The New Repub­li­can Party that I en­vi­sion will not be and can­not be one lim­ited to the coun­try club, big-busi­ness im­age that, for rea­sons both fair and un­fair, it is bur­dened with to­day,” Rea­gan told CPAC in 1977. “The New Repub­li­can Party I am speak­ing about is go­ing to have room for the man and the woman in the fac­to­ries, for the farmer, for the cop on the beat.”

Like Rea­gan, who brought many white eth­nic, work­ing­class vot­ers to his side dur­ing the 1980s, Trump owes his vic­tory in part to his suc­cess in at­tract­ing more sup­port than pre­vi­ous GOP can­di­dates from that same con­stituency. On Fri­day, Trump said: “The GOP will be, from now on, the party of the Amer­i­can worker . . . . We will not an­swer to donors or lob­by­ists or spe­cial in­ter­ests.” (That, even though his Cab­i­net is pop­u­lated by bil­lion­aires and Wall Street veter­ans.)

Trump and Ban­non see a world of en­tan­gling al­liances and multi­na­tional trade agree­ments that they seem to be­lieve have ill served the United States and the Amer­i­can worker. They cast them­selves as part of a right-wing pop­ulist move­ment chal­leng­ing gov­ern­ments through­out Europe over im­mi­gra­tion, refugees and other poli­cies. For Trump, the Is­lamic State and rad­i­cal Is­lamists rep­re­sent the great­est threat to se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity.

Trump and Ban­non would ar­gue that the world is far dif­fer­ent than it was when Rea­gan came to power. The Soviet Union, with which Rea­gan bat­tled, no longer ex­ists. Trump sees Rus­sia as a po­ten­tial ally against the Is­lamic State. But Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion casts a shadow over Trump’s pres­i­dency, and Trump’s gen­tle­ness to­ward an aggressive Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin is anath­ema to Rea­gan­ites.

Trump opened his speech Fri­day with an­other screed at the me­dia as dis­hon­est, re­peat­ing his claim that news or­ga­ni­za­tions are the en­emy of the Amer­i­can peo­ple. When Rea­gan ap­peared be­fore CPAC in 1981 shortly af­ter his inau­gu­ra­tion, he said this:

“Dur­ing our po­lit­i­cal ef­forts, we were the sub­ject of much in­dif­fer­ence and of­ten times in­tol­er­ance, and that’s why I hope our po­lit­i­cal vic­tory will be re­mem­bered as a gen­er­ous one and our time in power will be re­called for the tol­er­ance we showed for those with whom we dis­agree . . . . We must hold out this ex­cit­ing prospect of an or­derly, com­pas­sion­ate, plu­ral­is­tic so­ci­ety, an ar­chi­pel­ago of pros­per­ing com­mu­ni­ties and di­ver­gent in­sti­tu­tions.”

That, too, is a con­trast be­tween the 40th pres­i­dent and the 45th.

“This is the United States of Amer­ica that I’m rep­re­sent­ing. I’m not rep­re­sent­ing the globe. I’m rep­re­sent­ing your coun­try.” Pres­i­dent Trump, in a speech on Fri­day to the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence

CHIP SO­MOD­EV­ILLA/GETTY IMAGES

Small Amer­i­can flags in­di­cat­ing sup­port for po­lit­i­cal philoso­phies are pushed into a board near an im­age of for­mer pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan at the 2011 Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence.

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