5 CPAC takeaways: Conservative movement thriving with President Trump
© CPAC (with permission)

Reporters covering President Trump arrived at CPAC 2017 trying to find any little scrap of evidence that conservatives were unenthusiastic or even hostile to the president. They relished the story from CPAC 2016 which became a platform for #NeverTrump hysteria as the Republican nomination raged.

Reading countless stories about the tenuous relationship between Trump and the conservative movement, many were unsure about how the assembled would respond to the freshly inaugurated president.

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It may not be shocking to know that I believe most of the press have missed the affection between conservative grassroots activists and the president. But the Trump campaign also misjudged it when they fretted over the dynamics of the electric CPAC stage last year.

 

Candidates often make the mistake of thinking that voters make choices for candidates solely based on issue positions and impressive policy analysis. The election of 2016 was an important reminder that personality and character strengths can override issue expertise.

Many observers have undervalued the disappointment grassroots conservatives have felt as they watched the policies of the nation lurch left after the aggressive actions from courts, independent agencies and the White House itself, followed by the cheerleaders in the press, academia, and increasingly, radicalized corporate executives.

Conservatives saw a nation rapidly in decline. To stop this unraveling they turned to the strongest, most aggressive fighter they could think of: Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE sounded like someone who was ready to fight and fight ferociously.

Therefore, it did not surprise those of us at CPAC that Donald Trump received a hero’s welcome on the main stage. As he ticked through his ambitious agenda and mocked various liberal institutions, the crowd ate it up.

They realized that it was a special compliment to have Donald Trump come to CPAC in his first 5 weeks in office, something not done since the halcyon days of Ronald Reagan. But in typical Trump style, he didn’t just keep a promise to appear, he gave activists a gold-plated experience as the vice president, his cabinet, and White House senior staff populated the agenda. That was Donald Trump’s way of saying thank you to those who are often overlooked.

There are 5 takeaways from the 44th CPAC which demonstrate that the movement has never been more unified, energized, or ready for political battle.

1.      Conservatives are more unified than they were last year

According to The Washington Times CPAC Straw Poll Donald Trump enjoys an 86% approval rating from the assembled conservatives, so much for all the stories about all the divisions.  Are there differences and concerns?  Sure, conservatives will continue to evaluate the President’s policies on a case-by-case basis, but most of the handwringing is coming from a small number of intellectual elites and certain DC Republican operatives still suffering from post-election shock.

2.      It’s the Supreme Court, stupid

The country as a whole may be most focused on the anemic Obama economy, but for conservatives still smarting over the “growing” of Chief Justice Roberts, the Court’s vacancy is crucial.  94% of CPAC attendees support the selection of Neil Gorsuch; 86% would oppose any Republican senators who oppose his nomination; and 75% believe if filibustered, the Senate should go nuclear.  And additional vacancies loom. 

3.       Trump has already changed DC

How deliciously ironic it is that President Trump will skip the White House Correspondents Dinner, while at the same time giving the American Conservative Union’s CPAC a full measure of respect.  Such institutions as Harvard University and the Aspen Institute were bypassed in favor of The Heritage Foundation; Bloomberg parties are being replaced with NRA shoots; and the ABA will be carrying the bags of The Federalist Society. 

4.       Major companies are still in panic mode

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable are losing members as companies find new platforms to make an impact on the Trump Administration. Trying to impact a president who is unimpressed with political donations — and has no concern with post-White House opportunities — has proven a challenge.

5.       GOP should not confuse conservative support with obedience

Conservatives are still celebrating their congressional, state, and presidential victories. The GOP is on a historic winning streak, however conservatives who make up the heart and soul of the Republican Party, want to see action. They want a complete rollback of the Obama agenda, and they want their congressional leaders to amp it up and get it done.

One thing was clear at CPAC 2017: the elephant is still not out of the doghouse with activists who believe they were too passive in the face of Obama’s unconstitutional power grab.

Matt Schlapp is chairman of the American Conservative Union and CPAC. He was the White House political director to former President George W. Bush.


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