Trump cuts loose in rollicking address to conservatives

Trump cuts loose in rollicking address to conservatives
© Greg Nash

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — President TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE went into campaign mode on Friday with a freewheeling speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) aimed at energizing Republicans ahead of the midterm elections.

In a rollicking 75-minute address to the premier annual gathering of grass-roots conservatives, Trump smashed his enemies, joked about his hair, defended his controversial new gun proposals and warned conservatives against electoral complacency.

“Historically, if you win the presidency you don’t do well two years later,” Trump said. “You know what? We can’t let that happen. We need more Republicans. That’s why you have to go out there and fight for 2018.”

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Trump appeared in his element before a friendly crowd, taking the stage with a beaming smile and repeatedly cutting away from his scripted remarks to offer jokes or to muse about the trials of his presidency.

The president even joked about his famously-sculpted coiffure, pointing to his image on the big screen and joking that he had taken care to conceal a “bald spot.”

Moving away from the podium, the president turned his back to the crowd and brought his hands to his hair.

“Doesn’t look bad,” Trump said. “We’re hanging in.”

Minutes later, the president gleefully fulminated about how the media would make a big deal out of a protester removed during the speech.

“For the media, the fake news back there, they took very good care of them, they were very gentle,” Trump said. “He was very obnoxious.”

The Gaylord National Harbor hotel’s event hall was packed to the brim with thousands of Trump’s supporters. Organizers removed a temporary wall in the back to open up the hall to more attendees who had to stand in the back.

The audience leapt into chants of “build the wall” and “lock her up,” the latter a jab at 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonUkrainian official denies Trump pressured president The Memo: 'Whistleblower' furor gains steam Missing piece to the Ukraine puzzle: State Department's overture to Rudy Giuliani MORE.

Trump basked in an electoral victory that is now nearly 16 months old, pointedly mocking Clinton for ignoring Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, three states he won after decades of GOP defeats.

He also read a fable about a snake tricking a woman into nursing him back to health so he can kill her — a parable about the need for tougher immigration laws that Trump regularly read at campaign rallies.

The room erupted as Trump wrapped his speech and walked off stage to The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” a signature song from his presidential campaign.

The annual CPAC gathering has long been a barometer of GOP enthusiasm and it was clear that the 2018 midterm elections weighed heavily on Trump.

Republicans face stiff political headwinds in 2018 and the president said that if the party loses the House or the Senate, Democrats will be eager to roll back the gains Republicans have made during their two years in power.

Many conservatives are warning that if the president thinks his job is difficult now, he is in store for a rude awakening if Democrats take control of either chamber and suddenly have chairmanships and subpoena powers.

Trump warned about the consequences of Democrats taking power, saying they’d “take away your Second Amendment rights” and roll back the GOP’s tax cuts.

Trump touched on several hot-button topics of interest to the conservative crowd, including guns, immigration, ObamaCare and the culture wars.

“We salute our great American flag, we put our hands on our hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance and we all proudly stand for the national anthem,” Trump said to cheers. 

Trump said that under his watch, Republicans had stocked the courts with conservative justices, dismantled ObamaCare “piece by piece,” eliminated scores of regulations, “knocked out” the Paris climate agreement and sent the economy and stock market soaring.

“I think I proved I'm a conservative,” Trump said.

He blamed Democrats for a lack of progress on saving a program that defers deportation for certain immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

"Senate Democrats and the House Democrats have totally abandoned DACA. They don’t even talk to me about it; they’ve totally abandoned it," Trump said.

"We want to do something about DACA, get it solved after all these years. The Democrats have been totally unresponsive. They don't want to do anything about DACA. It’s very possible DACA won’t happen; it’s not because of Republicans, it’s because of Democrats.” 

Days after a dramatic White House meeting with survivors and the friends and family of victims of the Florida high school shooting, Trump said he had been moved by what he heard.

“The senseless act of mass murder has shocked our nation and broken our hearts,” he said. “We will act. We will do something.”

The president has made several proposals that put him at odds with the National Rifle Association (NRA) — one of his biggest boosters in the 2016 election. Trump has called for banning bump stocks, a device that can be attached to a semi-automatic rifle to speed up its firing rate. He has also proposed raising age restrictions on gun purchases and expanding background checks.

The president has said he’s been in touch with the NRA and that they will get on board with his proposals, although the group has publicly come out in opposition to raising the age limit.

But Trump spent a great deal of time on Friday promoting his call to arm teachers and administrators in American schools, something he and the NRA agree upon.

Echoing speakers from the NRA who addressed CPAC on Thursday, Trump argued that airports, banks and government building are protected by armed guards, and that gun-free zones attract deranged shooters, who know they can rampage without return fire until the police show up.

“This would be a major deterrent, because these people are inherently cowards,” Trump said. “If they thought — like, if this guy thought that other people would be shooting bullets back at him, he wouldn't have gone to that school. He wouldn't have gone there. It is a gun-free zone.”

The idea of arming school officials is highly controversial and has angered gun control activists, who say that more guns on school grounds is not the solution to preventing further shootings.

Trump said he is calling for only 10 or 20 percent of school officials to be armed and said that firearms should only be given to “very adept gun people.”

“I don't want to have 100 guards standing with rifles all over the school,” he said. “You do a conceal carry permit.”

An armed school official would have “shot the hell out of” the Florida gunman, Trump said.