Trump wins over con­ser­va­tives

Sup­port­ers of other GOP can­di­dates glad they were wrong

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN AND DAVID SHERFINSKI

Bar­bara Dwyer wanted to go all in with Don­ald Trump in the 2016 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pri­mary race but couldn’t shake her hes­i­ta­tion and in­stead cast her vote for Sen. Marco Ru­bio.

A year into the Trump pres­i­dency, the 36-year-old stay-at-home mother of five said she is “a mil­lion per­cent” happy that she got it wrong.

“I love Sen. Ru­bio, I re­spect what he does, but Don­ald Trump is bring­ing a lot of en­ergy to the party, and he is get­ting things done, which has not hap­pened in quite some time,” said Mrs. Dwyer, at­tend­ing the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence last week just out­side the Belt­way. “A lot of peo­ple are com­ing around be­cause they are happy and they are see­ing the di­rec­tion and ex­cited about where we are headed.”

Mrs. Dwyer’s sen­ti­ment is the lat­est ev­i­dence of how firmly Mr. Trump has grasped the reins of the Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tive move­ment, eras­ing doubts about his own bona fides even as he draws the po­lit­i­cal right to­ward his own be­liefs.

“Re­mem­ber when I first started run­ning?” Mr. Trump said as he kicked off his speech to CPAC. “I started run­ning, and peo­ple say, ‘Are you sure he’s a con­ser­va­tive?’ I think, now, we’ve proved that I’m a con­ser­va­tive, right?” The num­bers back him up. A CPAC/Wash­ing­ton Times poll of more than 1,100 at­ten­dees found that 93 per­cent of con­ser­va­tives ap­prove of the job Mr. Trump has done over his first year in of­fice — up from 86 per­cent last year.

The crowd also was more op­ti­mistic about the di­rec­tion of the na­tion than they were a year ago, with 75 per­cent say­ing the na­tion is on the right track, com­pared with 44 per­cent last year.

Con­ser­va­tives are in­creas­ingly push­ing for con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans to take their cue from Mr. Trump, with 79 per­cent say­ing Repub­li­can ma­jori­ties in the House and Se­nate should be do­ing more to sup­port the pres­i­dent — up from the 67 per­cent in last year’s poll. Just 4 per­cent of the con­ser­va­tives said Con­gress should try to stymie Mr. Trump’s agenda.

“The con­ser­va­tive move­ment has found a new leader,” said Jim McLaugh­lin, who ran the poll.

In prior years, CPAC pro­vided con­ser­va­tives with a chance to rem­i­nisce about for­mer Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan, dog-pile on Pres­i­dent Obama, and lament how lib­er­als and mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans had un­der­cut the na­tion’s moral and fis­cal un­der­pin­nings and tar­nished the na­tion’s place on the world stage.

The confab also served as a show­case for the party’s big­gest stars and home of the highly an­tic­i­pated pres­i­den­tial pref­er­ence straw poll, which Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky won in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas cap­tured the honor in 2016, the same year that Mr. Trump abruptly pulled out of the event amid re­ports that ac­tivists planned to stage a walk­out to show their sup­port for Mr. Cruz and con­cerns about Mr. Trump.

But lit­tle more than a year into the Trump pres­i­dency, those con­cerns have evap­o­rated, with con­ser­va­tives cheer­ing the first ma­jor over­haul of the fed­eral tax code since Rea­gan, ap­point­ing Neil Gor­such to the Supreme Court and be­gin­ning to move the U.S. Em­bassy in Is­rael from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Wil­liam Tem­ple, a CPAC reg­u­lar known for dress­ing up in Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War garb, was be­hind the plan to walk out on Mr. Trump two years ago.

“I was a big Cruz sup­porter, but Trump has done ev­ery­thing that I wanted Cruz to do and more, and he has ac­com­plished it in a year,” Mr. Tem­ple said.

He said the pres­i­dent has been so suc­cess­ful that it has forced him to re­think his views on lead­er­ship.

“Why would we ever elect ca­reer politi­cians to do any­thing? We should be get­ting pri­vate-sec­tor peo­ple, ex-mil­i­tary, what­ever, peo­ple who ac­tu­ally have sac­ri­ficed for the coun­try,” he said.

Mr. Tem­ple said he also is happy that his top pick for the job lost and “as a mat­ter of fact, I think Ted Cruz is look­ing at it and re­al­iz­ing the same thing.”

Mr. Cruz said nearly as much, telling the CPAC crowd that Mr. Trump’s “record of de­liv­ery has been re­mark­able.”

As far as con­ser­va­tives are con­cerned, the big­gest stains on Mr. Trump’s record are his un­couth be­hav­ior and his de­ci­sion to sign off on a bill last month that in­creased spend­ing over two years by $300 bil­lion.

“In terms of his char­ac­ter, he seems fun­da­men­tally flawed. I will sup­port a pri­mary can­di­date, who­ever it is, if a pri­mary can­di­date runs in 2020,” said 22-year-old Joey Pick­ens. “I just think he’s an im­moral per­son, and I don’t want him rep­re­sent­ing our coun­try with his at­ti­tude and his val­ues.”

That was a de­cid­edly rare opin­ion among the con­ser­va­tive grass-roots lead­ers who make up CPAC.

“I was a Ted Cruz sup­porter, and the con­cerns I had was [Mr. Trump] not keep­ing his prom­ises on a lot of things,” said 34-year-old Robert Sin­nott. “But he seems to be do­ing a fairly good job on that. I am happy he has re­pealed a lot of dif­fer­ent reg­u­la­tions like he said he would. I am happy about the tax cuts, and I didn’t re­ally like him tweet­ing at first, but it seems to rile up the left, so it is good in a way.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ad­dress­ing the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence, Pres­i­dent Trump said, “I started run­ning, and peo­ple say, ‘Are you sure he’s a con­ser­va­tive?’”

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