The Washington Post Sunday

CPAC speeches show GOP’s shift

- Dan Balz

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.
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.
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States