For Trump and CPAC, what a dif­fer­ence a year makes

Starkville Daily News - - FORUM -

One year ago, when the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence con­vened for its an­nual gath­er­ing, par­tic­i­pants were pos­i­tive about Don­ald

Trump’s 2016 elec­tion vic­tory, glee­ful that Hil­lary Clin­ton did not win, but un­sure about what the fu­ture would bring. So they danced around their new leader’s as­cent gin­gerly.

(There was also the is­sue of CPAC’s fail­ure to en­dorse Trump as whole­heart­edly as his base. In 2016, Trump ended up can­celling his planned speech at CPAC un­der threat of a walk­out, and he came in third in CPAC’s pres­i­den­tial straw poll.)

Matt Sch­lapp, whose American Con­ser­va­tive Union puts on the event, no­ticed the change this year from 2017.

“Last year I think peo­ple were a lit­tle bit still lit­tle in a state of shock. You know, did this re­ally hap­pen?” Sch­lapp told the Re­view Jour­nal. “This year I think there’s more of a feel­ing of, it’s work­ing. For con­ser­va­tives the agenda that the pres­i­dent’s put out there is just work­ing so well.”

Trump was aware of the group’s mis­giv­ings. At the start of his 75-minute ad­dress Fri­day, he said, “Re­mem­ber when I first started run­ning? Be­cause I wasn’t a politi­cian, for­tu­nately. But do you re­mem­ber I started run­ning and peo­ple would say, ‘Are you sure he’s a con­ser­va­tive?’ I think now we’ve proved that I’m a con­ser­va­tive, right?”

A year ago, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus sat with Chief Strate­gist Steve Ban­non at a ses­sion de­signed to defuse sto­ries about a feud be­tween the two. Ban­non fa­mously an­nounced that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was com­mit­ted to “the de­con­struc­tion of the ad­min­is­tra­tive state.”

Trump later fired both aides. The im­por­tant thing is “the pres­i­dent is still de­con­struct­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tive state,” David Bossie, long-time Trump ad­viser and head of the con­ser­va­tive group Cit­i­zens United, as­serted af­ter Trump’s CPAC ad­dress.

John Cox, a busi­ness­man who is run­ning for Cal­i­for­nia gover­nor as a Repub­li­can, said he didn’t think that Trump, a for­mer Demo­crat whose po­si­tions of­ten var­ied from GOP doc­trine, was truly con­ser­va­tive.

“I didn’t vote for him,” said Cox, who has at­tended CPAC con­fer­ences for years.

Would he vote for Trump in 2020? “Ab­so­lutely, with bells on,” Cox an­swered, who is thrilled with Trump’s ju­di­cial picks and the ef­fec­tive U.S. as­sault on ISIS.

Trump still grates on Cox, who ac­knowl­edged that for all the pol­icy pluses, “the trou­ble is the per­son­al­ity.” Cox de­scribed Trump as the op­po­site of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who is highly lik­able as a hu­man be­ing, but whose poli­cies of­fended Cox.

As a can­di­date in a very blue state (with no Repub­li­cans in statewide of­fice), Cox is aware of the dif­fi­cul­ties Trump could present for his cam­paign. And it’s not just be­cause of Trump. Cox also blames the me­dia for “un­re­lent­ingly neg­a­tive” cov­er­age.

For­mer New Mex­ico Gov. Gary John­son thinks Trump’s ten­ure in the White House

will make it im­pos­si­ble for a Repub­li­can to win statewide in an­other blue state, New Mex­ico.

“If you’re run­ning,” he ex­plained, “you’d be ex­pected to de­fend him.”

As for Ne­vada’s gover­nor’s race, John­son pre­dicted a Demo­cratic win — then posited that his 2016 elec­tion loss sug­gests he is no ex­pert.

It says some­thing about CPAC that John­son met well-wish­ers and selfie-seek­ers

wher­ever he walked at the con­fer­ence — even though he ran against Trump as a Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date for pres­i­dent in 2016.

While most at­ten­dees seemed happy to em­brace Trump as a fel­low con­ser­va­tive, John­son was not so sure. Yes, he said, Trump is con­ser­va­tive “in some ways. He re­duced taxes — but he didn’t re­duce spend­ing and I think that’s part of the con­ser­va­tive equa­tion.”

John­son pre­sented a view on Trump that runs con­trary to what oth­ers say. He thinks Trump doesn’t rate as a con­ser­va­tive be­cause he does not com­mu­ni­cate well.

“I don’t know his thought process,” said John­son. “Part of the art of gov­ern­ing is to com­mu­ni­cate why you do things. I think he’s done a re­ally poor job of that.”

As an ex­am­ple, John­son said, he doesn’t un­der­stand Trump on Afghanistan.

“What’s your in­for­ma­tion on Afghanistan that you’re dou­bling down on Afghanistan, in­stead of get­ting out, which is what you said dur­ing the cam­paign?” (Pres­i­dents can change their mind, John­son stressed, he just wants to know what fac­tors led to the change.)

Other CPAC at­ten­dees con­fided their mis­giv­ings on an off-the-record ba­sis, but they wanted to stay on the Trump train.

Sch­lapp, whose wife, Mer­cedes,

a high-pro­file de­fender of con­ser­va­tive causes in her own right, joined the White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions team in Septem­ber, said, “The room it­self with the pres­i­dent, we’ve never had that many peo­ple in that room. And he had a lot of fun in the speech. He con­nects with th­ese peo­ple.”

Con­tact De­bra J. Saun­ders at dsaun­[email protected]­viewjour­nal. com or 202-662-7391. Fol­low @De­braJSaun­ders on Twit­ter.

DE­BRA J. SAUN­DERS SYN­DI­CATED COLUM­NIST

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